Top Five Global Health Innovations of the 2000s

12/30/09

During the past decade, we have seen tremendous technological advances in the field of global health. These innovations promise to bring us closer to a world where health is within reach for everyone. However, realizing their full potential will require further investment to implement these breakthroughs within affordable product platforms. It will also require innovation in delivery systems to ensure access by those who need these technologies most.

Here are some of the most promising technologies we have seen emerge:

1. New vaccine technologies. Nearly every licensed vaccine today uses decades-old technologies that require expensive factories to produce a single vaccine. New recombinant, platform-based technologies may greatly speed vaccine production, decrease manufacturing costs, and increase production in developing countries. Such platforms will allow multiple vaccines to be produced in a single facility using scalable technology that is readily transferrable. They will also facilitate development of vaccines for specific regions of the world, such as affordable vaccines for viral encephalitis in Asia and bacterial meningitis in Africa. Innovations in manufacturing and vaccine approaches will broaden opportunities for combination vaccines—offering protection against several diseases in a single shot.

2. Point-of-care diagnostic technologies. A technique called isothermal nucleic acid amplification may dramatically simplify the processes and tools needed for diagnosing certain diseases in low-resource settings; and may eventually lead to instrument-free molecular infectious disease assays. By quickly and inexpensively identifying molecular markers of disease agents, this diagnostic innovation may enable highly specific treatments, displacing the “shotgun therapy” currently used in many cases. This approach will enable better patient care, as well as slow the emergence of antimicrobial resistance fueled by widespread use of broad-spectrum drugs.

3. Vaccine thermostability technologies. Spray drying, new liquid formulations, and alternative delivery techniques are helping to decrease the need for refrigeration of new vaccines. Given the number of new vaccines under development, these thermostability technologies have huge potential to decrease the burden on the cold chain infrastructure and facilitate delivery of lifesaving vaccines.

4. Telecom and IT infrastructure convergence. The growth of mobile phone networks, the underlying data systems, and the integration of these systems with existing commercial and health system infrastructure holds significant potential to improve health promotion and disease management. Patient management systems, improved supply chains, and remote treatment through telemedicine are examples of applications of this growing infrastructure.

5. Water, sanitation, and hygiene technologies. Low-cost water purification and new “plug and play” components for safe water and sanitation may make safe water available to millions. Innovations in business models for delivery of safe water are opening new distribution channels.

At PATH, we are enthralled with harnessing the potential of scientific and technological breakthroughs, transforming these advances into affordable health care products, and navigating the challenges of integrating these products into systems to improve health. Our goal is quite simple: to ensure that everyone around the world enjoys the reduced child mortality, extended life expectancy, and reduced morbidity from infectious disease that we in developed nations take for granted.

[Editor's Note: As the decade comes to an end, we've asked Xconomists and other technology leaders around the country to identify the top innovations they've seen in their fields the past 10 years, or predict the top disruptive technologies that will impact the next decade.]

Christopher Elias is the President of Global Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Follow @

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  • http://www.celartia.com Vincent Russo

    I was quite taken aback when reading Mr. Elias´s top five technology list for the last decade.
    I sent PATH information on our new egg free cell culture based system we are developing nearly 6 months ago & it didn´t provoke so much as a “thank you”.

    Our system cuts cost, space & time. Reduces batch sizes to isolate possible contamination (which is very rare) & eliminates necessity of having to dump vaccines due to mutation changes in the disease, whilst at the same time yielding large volumes.

    SOunds too good to be true I know, but it seems even having spoon fed PATh with this brief, they failed to recognize its significance in their field.

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