Carol A. Dahl, Ph. D., director of Global Health Discovery team of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, stressed the need for affordable medical equipment diagnosis of diseases in her lecture “Science and Technology Discovery to Meet Global Health Needs” last Friday.
The Henry Samueli School of Engineering hosted the event as part of the Biomedical Engineering Distinguished Lecturer Series.
Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, and his wife Melinda Gates provide various programs to fight disease, poverty and other health and social issues, and improve education through the Gates Foundation, which also disperses grants to researchers with help from Warren Buffett and Gates’ father William H. Gates Sr.
According to Dahl, the Global Health Program receives about 50 percent of the Gates Foundation’s funds, while the Global Development Program and U.S. Program receive 25 percent each.
The Gates Foundation Web site reports that the Global Health Discovery team targets fundamental scientific and technological advances in global health. These advances allow the group’s research to lead to new ways to prevent, treat and diagnose disease.
Focusing on diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, malaria, neglected diseases, nutrition, pneumonia, polio, tobacco, tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable diseases and the category of maternal, newborn and child health concerns, the Global Health program hopes to create vaccines for developing countries.
Since most of the audience members were biomedical engineering professors and students, Dahl focused on recruitment opportunities. Currently, the Gates Foundation is providing grants of $100,000 to winners who aim to solve global health issues through the Grand Challenges Explorations initiative.
According to Ray Fung, a fourth-year biomedical engineering major the Global Health Program’s Grand Challenges Explorations initiative is a valuable resource.
“[It] makes you realize you’re in a totally different world,” Fung said.
Dahl stressed that living costs are tremendously disproportionate throughout the world.
“One out of six people live on a dollar a day,” Dahl said.
In Africa and other developing regions, people, especially children, are dying from common ailments, such as diarrhea and measles. Not to mention, HIV/AIDS affects millions of people in developing countries, especially those in Africa. The Global Health Program is currently focusing on nutrition by improving food and water quality to decrease mortality rates in children. The distribution of vaccines and drugs is another focus.
Developing countries have a difficult time dealing with public health issues due to inadequate technology and poor infrastructure. Many health problems in the developing world are found in villages where there is a lack of health clinics and electricity to efficiently operate medical devices and monitoring systems.
The main obstacle to improving global health in developing countries is cost. The transfer of medical supplies from wealthy to impoverished countries is expensive.
Dahl stated that there is an urgent need for more innovations to solve global health issues in the developing world.
Another major challenge in tackling global health is the diagnosis of diseases. In developed countries, a sterile lab for blood tests and stool samples are commonly used to diagnose diseases. However, in developing countries, an inadequate environment and poor resources make it very difficult to utilize expensive medical equipment to diagnose diseases.
“We need a common diagnostics platform,” Dahl said.
To explain, Dahl mentioned that diseases are diagnosed individually based on symptoms. Instead, she said that a common symptom, such as a fever, should be utilized by medical staff as an indicator for serious diseases such as diphtheria, malaria and pneumonia.
Dahl suggested a demand on the cost between diagnostic tools and disease intervention, adding that it is important to “keep in mind that the diagnostic has to be cheaper than the intervention.”
Global Health Program seeks to develop technology that can provide accurate tests, earlier diagnosis and simpler easy-to-use tests.
Dahl suggested that technology should be portable and manageable because, for example, people in Niger typically live 28 kilometers from the nearest health clinic. In addition, many developing countries lack efficient waste management systems that can properly dispose of medical waste, especially needles and syringes, which can harm children if exposed.
Dahl mentioned that the foundation focuses on research and development, not the creation and distribution of bioengineered products, such as vaccines and drugs, which is done by humanitarian organizations and biomedical companies.
“There really is no bigger test for humanity than the crisis of global health,” Dahl said, quoting Gates.