Stories about: global health

IBM’s Watson at work: Transforming health care

Part of a continuing series of videotaped sessions at Boston Children’s Hospital’s recent Global Pediatric Innovation Summit + Awards 2014.

What’s IBM’s Watson been up to since winning Jeopardy? Among other things, it’s been trying to help doctors make decisions. “We live in an age of information overload,” says Mike Rhodin, Senior Vice President of the IBM Watson Group. “The challenge is to now turn that information into knowledge.”

Interestingly, most of the inquiries Rhodin received post-Jeopardy were from doctors, who were interested in the way Watson sorted and ranked possible answers. Here, Rhodin and Dan Cerutti, VP of Watson Commercialization, outline IBM’s vision to improve global health care through a technology platform called CarePlex:

Stay tuned as we post more sessions from the Pediatric Innovation Summit (also available on YouTube) and read our blog coverage.

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Hacking sports medicine in Qatar

MIT Hacking Medicine Qatar
The MIT Hacking Medicine team in Doha, Qatar: L-R: Chris Lee; Ayesha Khalid, MD, MBA; Judy Wang; Viqar Hussain; Ned McCague (photos courtesy Judy Wang)

Judy Wang, MS, is a program manager in the Telehealth Program at Boston Children’s Hospital.

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Student leaders from MIT Hacking Medicine had invited me to join a weekend health care hackathon in Doha, Qatar. We had taken our show on the international road before, to Uganda and India, but this hack (November 20–22, 2014) would be our first in the Middle East and the first focused on sports medicine. In partnership with Qatar Science & Technology Park (QSTP), a member of the Qatar Foundation, this hack brought together students, athletes and health care professionals to solve sports medicine’s most pressing challenges.

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Responding to Ebola in West Africa: Farmer calls for staff, space, supplies, systems

Paul Farmer, president and co-founder of Partners in Health, has dedicated his life to the idea that the problems of the world’s poorest people are humanity’s problems writ large. Having recently returned from West Africa, Farmer spoke at Harvard Medical School and appeared on the Colbert Report last week, calling for a stronger response to the Ebola outbreak.

“We want to have a radical inclusiveness,” Farmer told the Harvard Medical School audience. “We readily acknowledge that we are overwhelmed by this.”

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Leveraging bacteria biofilms for vaccines

biofilm vaccine cholera
Through genetic engineering, this Vibrio cholerae biofilm can be loaded with extra antigens, creating a super-charged but inexpensive vaccine.
Malaria. Cholera. Now Ebola. Whatever the contagion, the need for new, or better, vaccines is a constant. For some of the most devastating public health epidemics, which often break out in resource-poor countries, vaccines have to be not only medically effective but also inexpensive. That means easy to produce, store and deliver.

Paula Watnick, MD, PhD, an infectious disease specialist at Boston Children’s Hospital, has a plan that stems from her work on cholera: using a substance produced by the bacteria themselves to make inexpensive and better vaccines against them.

Cells do all the work

Bacteria produce biofilms—a sticky, tough material composed of proteins, DNA and sugars—to help them attach to surfaces and survive.

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Innovation inspiration: From Shakira to Toys ‘R’ Us

A fleet of toddlers get ready to race in their Go Baby Go cars, customized by therapists and parents to provide disabled children with mobility and help them strengthen weak muscles.
Start your engines: A fleet of GoBabyGo cars, customized by therapists and parents to give disabled children mobility and help strengthen weak muscles. (Courtesy Cole Galloway)
TEDMED2014 focused on a powerful theme: unlocking imagination in service of health and medicine. Speaker after speaker shared tales of imagination, inspiration and innovation. Here are a few of our favorites:

$100 plastic car stands in for $25,000 power wheelchair

In the first (and likely only) National Institutes of Health-funded shopping spree at Toys R’ Us, Cole Galloway, director of the Pediatric Mobility Lab at the University of Delaware, and crew stocked up on pint-sized riding toys.

Galloway’s quest was to facilitate independence and mobility among disabled children from the age of six months and older and offer a low-tech solution during the five-year wait in the United States for a $25,000 power pediatric wheelchair.

The hackers jerry-rigged the toys with pool noodles, PVC pipe and switches, reconfiguring them as mobile rehabilitation devices to promote functional skills among kids with special needs.

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OPENPediatrics: A blueprint for big innovation

My father had a favorite bit of advice as we embarked on our adult lives: “Go big or go home.” Going big is exactly what OPENPediatrics is doing, empowering physicians and nurses to care for children across the globe.

The Web-based digital learning platform was conceived 10 years ago by Jeffrey Burns, MD, MPH, chief of critical care at Boston Children’s Hospital, and Traci Wolbrink, MD, MPH, an associate in critical care. It concluded a year-long beta test in April 2014, and version 1 has now been launched.

Developed to impart critical care skills, OPENPediatrics uses lectures, simulators and protocols to deliver training. In the process, it has helped save lives.

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Was it ethical to give two Americans an experimental Ebola therapy?

Ebola response ethics experimental treatment therapy ZMapp
Guinean Red Cross volunteers prepare to decontaminate a hospital in the capital, Conakry. (European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr)

The world paused for a moment when the news broke last week that two Ebola-infected American missionaries working in Liberia had received an experimental therapy called ZMapp. As I write this, both patients are back on U.S. soil, and seem to be responding well to the treatment.

But was it ethical?

That difficult question can be divided into two. First is the question of whether it was ethical to give the two patients a drug that, up to that point, had never been tested in people. The second—in some ways thornier—question is: Was it ethical to give the treatment to two Americans but not the nearly 1,850 West Africans infected in the outbreak (as of August 11)?

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Bhutta: $13 ‘nonsense’ innovation makes a huge impact

global health innovationZulfiqar Bhutta, MBBS, PhD, inaugural chair in global child health at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, and founding director of the Center of Excellence in Women and Child Health, Aga Khan University, Pakistan, is a global child health superstar. Presidents, prime ministers and princes welcome his advice. Yet India ignored him when he called its proposed innovation to curb infant mortality “nonsense.” “I was dead wrong,” says Bhutta. “What happened is remarkable.”

The simple innovation, which Bhutta now publicly commends, cut perinatal mortality 25 percent.

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Promoting global child mental health

Ibeziako,PatriciaPatricia Ibeziako, MD, directs the Boston Children’s Hospital Global Partnerships for Psychiatry Observership Program and the Psychiatry Consultation Service at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Children and adolescents constitute almost a third of the world’s population—2.2 billion individuals—and almost 90 percent live in low-income and middle-income countries, where they form up to half of the population. Yet, for many years, child mental health has largely been glossed over—with long-term negative effects on educational attainment in addition to chronic disability and lost productivity.

Major international non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies work in settings where children are at risk for mental health difficulties. However, with the exception of the World Health Organization (WHO), these agencies often fail to acknowledge or focus on child mental health issues. In 2005, the WHO Atlas of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Resources reported that less than one third of 66 countries surveyed had an entity with sole responsibility for child mental health programming, and that national budgets rarely had identifiable funding for child mental health services.

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Can social marketing help tame global killers?

superamma

Judith Palfrey, MD, is director of the Global Pediatrics Program in the Department of Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Diarrhea is a bigger global killer than HIV and malaria combined. It accounts for more than 800,000 deaths each year among children 0-5 years. And how tragic this is when the simple intervention of hand washing can prevent some of these deaths. Results of a trial, published in the March edition of The Lancet Global Health, indicate that teaching families in under-resourced areas of the world about hand washing is not only possible but also scalable, sustainable and successful—if it’s done the right way.

Hand washing is a simple intervention, but the prevalence of the behavior is as low as 1 to 2 percent in some under-resourced global settings. A London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine group, led by Adam Biran, PhD, decided to try to improve these statistics by devising an effective intervention.

However, the route to simple solutions is often complex. The researchers used very sophisticated methodology to identify the levers of behavioral change. They realized that health messages about hand washing have not worked. The idea that what I do today may prevent diarrhea down the road just did not have enough oomph to motivate people to adopt a new routine.

The researchers hypothesized that emotional drivers (including nurture, status, disgust and belonging) would be strong pushes to get families to wash their hands. And they were right.

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