How Technology & Innovation are Accelerating Progress in Global Health

By Andie Long

In April, the United Nations Chief Information and Technology Officer, Atefeh Riazi, visited Seattle, where she met with numerous companies and non-profits, including many Global Washington members. The purpose of her meetings was to explore how the UN can support globally-minded organizations in using information, technology, and innovation to accelerate progress toward the 17 Sustainable Development Goals – also known as The Global Goals.

Just prior to Ms. Riazi’s visit, the UN had announced the adoption of Tableau Software globally, an effort intended to visualize trends in the data and improve the way Member States use data to inform decision-making. Despite some gaps in the data, the global development community is forging ahead and doing everything in its power to move the needle.

Ms. Riazi has said she believes the for-profit sector has an important role to play, alongside the non-profit sector, which already has been expanding and deepening its use of new technologies and innovative solutions.

Without a doubt, the challenges are immense, and UN Member Countries have set ambitious targets to reach by 2030. In this issue, we’ll take a closer look at the global health goal.

In a 2017 assessment, the UN noted that major progress had been made on Sustainable Development Goal 3 (“Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”). Yet, in order to meet its own aggressive targets, several key areas would require special attention. Chief among them were reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health; infectious diseases; and a focus on health systems strengthening.


When it comes to preventing unintended pregnancies, universal access to sexual and reproductive health care is critical. In 2017, the UN reported that 78 percent of women of reproductive age worldwide who were “married or in union” felt that their family planning needs were satisfied through modern contraceptives. This represents an increase of three percentage points since 2000. Remarkably, in the least developed countries, there has been an 18 percentage point increase over the last seven years.

The Gates Foundation has said it is dedicated to reaching an additional 120 million women and girls in the poorest countries by 2020 with high-quality contraceptive information, services, and supplies. Its long-term goal is for every woman to have access to voluntary family planning.

Read Global Washington’s conversation with PATH Director of Reproductive Health, Martha Brady.

One product that reproductive health experts are particularly excited about is a novel injectable contraceptive that was developed by PATH and manufactured by Pfizer. Referred to as subcutaneous DMPA, or Sayana® Press, the long-lasting contraceptive is injected every three months. The product itself combines the drug and a needle in a prefilled, single-use Uniject™ device – another PATH invention. Because of its user-friendly design, it can be administered by trained community health workers, pharmacists, and women themselves through self-injection.

Moving from reproductive health to the health of infants and young children, it’s worth celebrating the fact that the mortality rate for kids under five years old has fallen 44 percent since the year 2000. However, in sub-Saharan Africa the rate remains stubbornly high.

World Vision has spent the last decade equipping community health workers with cell phones and other technology tools to help them reach more people and improve the quality of care they can provide to pregnant women and caregivers. World Vision currently has mHealth initiatives in 11 countries in Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia, and the organization is increasingly utilizing new types of information and technology solutions, including customized vehicles to ensure vaccine cold chain in South Africa, and iris-scan technology to monitor Ebola vaccine trial participants in Sierra Leone.


When it comes to infectious diseases overall, one of the major risk factors is the lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. Today there are many more effective and affordable water filtration and purification options available.

PotaVida, for example, provides a simple-to-use solar water purifier for households in disaster relief and refugee contexts. What’s more, the product records its own usage, sending those data in real-time to field staff so they can track whether families are using the devices correctly and how often. Other products on the market have been designed for community use in post-disaster settings.

In a recent TEDxSeattle talk, PATH CEO and President Steve Davis heralded an exciting time in global health. Today, he said, we have new ways to fight old diseases, “giving us the power to banish some of the worst killers from the earth.”

Not only is the global health community making extraordinary gains toward eliminating diseases like malaria, but it is also increasingly partnering with the private sector to make rapid data-informed decisions that can save lives.

Read how the Global Washington community is working to eliminate malaria.

The partnership between Microsoft and Medical Teams International offers a great example. Thanks to digital data capture and real-time monitoring efforts in the field, Medical Teams International was able to halt an emerging cholera outbreak in refugee settlements in Uganda.

In addition to the known killers, new diseases such as SARS, Ebola, and Zika have also emerged at a frightening rate. The Ebola outbreak in particular helped catalyze a new vaccine development collaboration called CEPI, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust, as well as the governments of Germany, Japan, and Norway, the coalition is focused on vaccines for the next pandemic disease.


One of the most challenging targets to meet within SDG 3 is strengthening the capacity of health systems in developing countries, and around the world, to provide early warning, risk reduction, and management of health risks at the national and global level. According to the UN’s own progress assessment, in the least developed countries, for every 1,000 people there are fewer than three nurses or midwives and just a fraction of one physician. This shortage of medically trained staff puts greater pressure on health systems across the board.

Americares is a great example of a health-focused relief and development organization that’s not just responding to people’s medical needs in an emergency, but also evaluating ways to help strengthen and build capacity in local health systems for the future. Expert at moving large amounts of medicines and medical supplies on short notice, the organization has created an app for its partners called the Field Inventory Tracker, or Fit Tool.

On a larger scale, VillageReach’s OpenLMIS (logistics management information system) supports health commodity supply chain managers in low-infrastructure settings. Starting first in Mozambique, OpenLMIS is now in use in eight countries.

Shifting from tracking medical supplies to tracking patient care, another tech solution that was developed by Global Washington member Max Foundation monitors the needs of cancer patients in low-resource settings. The Patient Access Tracking System, or PATS®, is used by healthcare professionals who access cancer treatment through the foundation. The platform is currently used to monitor and maintain treatment access for more than 35,000 patients in more than 70 countries.

* * *

Learn more about how Global Washington members are using technology and innovation to improve global health outcomes:

American Cancer Society. Fighting cancer in lower-resourced nations has its challenges, but the American Cancer Society (ACS) is working globally to bridge the gap so that all people share the victories of the war on cancer. To focus on the treatment gap, more than 40 oncologists from 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa recently came together to establish the African Cancer Coalition. This group aims to scale up high-quality cancer treatments for patients. The ACS, Clinton Health Access Initiative, National Comprehensive Cancer Network® and the IBM Health Corps are partnering with the African Cancer Coalition to make this vision a reality. Together they want to ensure that every cancer patient is given the chance to survive and thrive.

Americares saves lives and improves health for people affected by poverty or disaster so they can reach their full potential. Americares responds to an average of 30 disasters each year, shipping medicine and medical supplies and restoring health services to maintain access to health care for survivors. Americares leverages technology, including an app called the ‘Fit Tool’ developed to manage and track large shipments of medicine and supplies in the field and share that information with partners in real time. By collaborating with partner organizations and by using technology that helps improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its health programs, Americares is able to reach vulnerable families with critical health programs, medicine and supplies.

The Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) is the world’s largest independent, non-profit research institute devoted exclusively to infectious diseases. Established 42 years ago, before Seattle became known for global health innovation, CIDR began addressing those diseases that disproportionally affect people in poverty. The organization applies cutting-edge scientific approaches to generating breakthroughs in the fight against TB, malaria, HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases and, as result, broadens understanding of human health.

Global Good combines Intellectual Venture’s unique invention prowess with the expertise of leading humanitarian organizations, forward-looking governments, and commercial partners. The organization invents, develops, and deploys commercially-viable technologies that improve life in developing countries. In the fight against malaria, Global Good has created an improved rapid diagnostic test to detect low levels of malaria parasites in a person’s bloodstream. It has also developed an automated microscope to help untrained individuals accurately diagnose malaria.

The Max Foundation works to increase global access to treatment, care, and support for people living with cancer. The foundation’s efforts are made possible through a proprietary, real-time, client relationship management tool – the Patient Access Tracking System (PATS®). Developed in-house, the PATS® platform empowers Max Foundation’s partner physicians, program managers, and program coordinators to seamlessly align their efforts at the individual patient level – ensuring the right drug is delivered to the right patient in the right dose at the right time. In total, the PATS® platform helps monitor and maintain treatment access for more than 35,000 patients spread across 70+ countries.

Medical Teams International. The world is facing a refugee crisis on a scale it has never known. Crowded conditions, poor sanitation, and inaccessible healthcare in refugee camps can quickly escalate into disease outbreaks and staggering levels of suffering. Through an innovative partnership with Cambia Health Solutions and Microsoft, Medical Teams International has developed a mobile app to replace slow, cumbersome paperwork processes and track real-time medical data. Now, healthcare workers at refugee settlements in Uganda are empowered to monitor and stop disease outbreaks before they reach epidemic levels.

MSR Global Health is a leading innovator and manufacturer of low-cost, field-proven products that improve access to basic human needs for people around the globe. With nearly 50 years of technical engineering and manufacturing expertise, MSR Global Health is developing technologies that increase access to vital needs such as clean water. SDG 3 recognizes that a major risk factor for infectious diseases and mortality is the lack of safe water – with MSR Global Health technologies, water-related diseases can be prevented and treated.

NetHope. For more than a decade, NetHope has collaborated with its nonprofit members and innovative technology partners to meet the demands of vulnerable communities around the world. This cross-sector collaboration allows for better programs, mitigation of risks, and scaling benefits for greater impact in the communities in which NetHope works. By delivering information technology solutions to the developing world, NetHope helps nonprofits become more effective to achieve great strides for the underserved, and provides tech companies the opportunity to leverage their tools and ideas at scale across the entire sector of development to create successful outcomes, promoting the health and wellbeing for at-risk communities.

PATH uses technology and innovation to open the door to healthy lives and well-being for people everywhere. A global team with expertise in science, business, advocacy and dozens of other disciplines, PATH drives responsive solutions to a wide spectrum of health challenges: developing contraceptives that fit women’s lives; advancing digital tools that empower front-line malaria fighters with real-time data; pioneering new models for HIV prevention and care; advancing vaccines that protect children from diseases; and much more. By partnering with businesses, governments, and communities, PATH takes high-quality, affordable health solutions all the way to scale—because when people everywhere have a path to good health, communities, countries, and economies thrive.

PotaVida enables aid organizations to make better decisions by collecting accurate data from the field in real time and distilling it into actionable insights. To realize this, PotaVida creates technical solutions that work, are simple to use, and result in dramatic benefit to people in need. The company’s first product, the Smart Solar Purifier, disinfects water using just sunlight for household use in disaster relief and refugee contexts. In addition to providing safe drinking water at a dramatically lower cost, every Smart Solar Purifier records its own usage data. This data is downloaded to mobile devices to provide instantaneous feedback in the field, and is also synced in the cloud, analyzed at the program level, and sent to decision makers.

Splash is a non-profit organization that delivers water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) solutions for kids. They work in Asia and Africa in some of the fastest growing cities in the world, where they focus on child-serving institutions to help kids and their families lead healthier lives. Splash has completed over 1,600 projects across eight countries, serving more than 400,000 children. Their five-year goal is to reach 100% of government schools in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Kathmandu (Nepal), and Kolkata (India), benefitting one million children. To track their impact, Splash works with corporate partners like Tableau to visualize and share its data.

The Tableau Foundation is an initiative led by the employees of Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA) that encourages the use of facts and analytical reasoning to solve the world’s problems. Tableau Foundation grants combine Tableau’s two most valuable resources – its people and its products – with financial support to nonprofits that are using data to reshape communities around the globe. Since 2015, Tableau Foundation and PATH have partnered to provide vital software, training, and funding in support of Zambia’s goal of eliminating malaria by 2021. The partnership empowers frontline health workers with the critical tools to track and treat malaria cases to help eliminate this deadly disease.

VillageReach works with ministries of health to solve health care delivery challenges in low resource communities.  We are building on a rich history of leapfrogging technologies that can overcome both geographic and social distance. Electronic data capture helps us ensure the right health products are available at the right time and place. UAVs are being tested to address availability of blood in emergencies and access to routine health products.  Mobile phones are allowing adolescents to anonymously call a health hotline.  These technologies are helping VillageReach create a more responsive health system that can better manage current and emerging health threats.

World Vision. Mobile technology is ubiquitous: there are more than 5 billion wireless subscribers globally with greater than 70% in low and middle income countries. World Vision is leveraging “mHealth,” or mobile health, applications among thousands of community health workers to improve people’s health, especially in countries where access to healthcare is severely limited. World Vision’s health, nutrition, water and sanitation, and disaster management experts are all using digital technology to help ensure life in all its fullness for children in the communities with which it works. You can view the 2018 World Vision mHealth Report and learn more about World Vision mHealth Programming at