Quick Tech Fixes Can’t Solve All Healthcare Problems
Thursday, October 1, 2015
Often, public attention gravitates to simple fixes to large-scale problems — with reason, as such solutions are appealing, and sometimes they work. But a recent flurry of projects is supporting health through complex packages of solutions, including an organization supporting vision in Africa, a tech project in South Asia and even part of America’s Affordable Care Act.
In global health and development, is complexity the new simplicity?
Peter Courtright thinks it is. He’s one of the founders of the Kilimanjaro Centre for Community Ophthalmology, a project that just won the prestigious Antonio Champalimaud Vision Awardfor innovations in eye care. Since 2001, he and his collaborators have been expanding the capacity of healthcare facilities in sub-Saharan Africa to address patients’ visual health.
The help is sorely needed. Like people everywhere, Africans often experience worsening vision with age. Along with this issue comes a range of visual disorders in excess of the ones that trouble Western people: loss of vision from undiagnosed diabetes, for instance, and trachoma, an infectious disease that causes the eyelids to turn inward and blind the eye. (The latter has been eradicated in most countries outside of sub-Saharan Africa.) As is the case with most healthcare specialties, Africa has far fewer providers than are necessary to treat all people who need care.
KCCO (and the partners with whom it shared the prize, the Seva Foundation and Seva Canada) isn’t alone in attempting a fix for the problem. But their approach differs from the simple fixes — like adjustable glasses or a smartphone-mounted eye-testing device — that global health projects sometimes offer. While those can generate a positive impact, KCCO’s collaborative Kilimanjaro Project instead provides a multipronged program that aims at increasing care by increasing the capacity of existing African clinics.
“We don’t provide clinical care,” Courtright says. Instead, the project encompasses research, training, technical advice and evaluations meant to help existing healthcare facilities provide better eye care to their patients. The project’s wraparound approach can allow a neat complement to simpler innovations, as it can theoretically move useful tech solutions to the right place and right population at the right time.
- Health Care