Watch our exclusive interviews with 6 leading innovators making a difference in the health industry
When it comes to global health, many countries, particularly western ones, are in better shape than others. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS, which have become treatable, livable conditions in the United States, are still ravaging countries in Africa. Mothers aren’t getting the sufficient nutrition and pre- and post-natal care they need to birth and nurture healthy babies, obesity is an epidemic in multiple countries, and access to clean water and medical care plagues countries around the world.
But there are people making a difference in these areas. From working for increased access to medical care and drug treatments, to making historic breakthroughs in stem-cell research that can help victims of once-debilitating spinal cord injuries walk again, here are 6 remarkable people making significant contributions to the health industry:
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1. Dr. Priya Agrawal
Bio: Dr. Priya Agrawal is a Visiting Scientist from London working for the Dean’s Special Initiative on Women and Health at Harvard School of Public Health focused on high quality women’s health care. She is an obstetrician & gynecologist and senior advisor on the World Health Organization’s Mother/Baby 7-day mCheck – a checklist given to new mothers to ensure the week following childbirth both mom and baby are well cared for and that one can sense any medical signs. From 2009 to 2010, she was seconded as a Clinical Advisor to the Medical Director at the National Patient Safety Agency. Agrawal has worked and taught in Malawi, Kenya, Tanzania, Malaysian Borneo, India and Thailand.
Priya is working with a number of organizations “all with the aim to make every pregnancy wanted, every birth safe, and every newborn and chid healthy.” Currently 1,000 women and 10,000 newborns will die each day – deaths that are “completely avoidable” – 99 percent of which are in the developing world, Priya said. Most do not have access to proper post-natal care. The WHO has developed a tool that harnesses the “best untapped resource in health care – patients.” That means giving mothers a checklist of things to be on the lookout for in their newborns to ensure they get proper care at the first signs of any illness or post-natal difficulties. “I’m looking at innovating simple tools that go along with continuing care,” Priya said. “We know what’s killing them. And we know how to prevent it. But how do we get that knowledge to the bedside of those who need it most?”
2. Dr. Hans Keirstead
Bio: Dr. Hans Keirstead is Professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology and Founder of the Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Center at the UC Irvine Reeve-Irvine Research Center. In 2004, Dr. Keirstead led his team of researchers at UC Irvine to successfully develop a human embryonic stem cell derived treatment for acute spinal cord injuries in rats. That treatment was recently approved by FDA for clinical trials in humans with acute spinal cord injuries. The trial, which will be carried out by Geron Corporation, marks the first human embryonic stem cell trial ever approved in the U.S.
Watch genConnect’s interview with Dr. Keirstead below:
When it comes to human embryonic stem cell research, Dr. Keirstead is the man with the plan – the plan to repair spinal cords, that is. The spinal cord carries all the signals from the brain to the body to control it and carries the sensory components back up. When the cord is severed, a cavity forms, surrounded by some continuity of information running north to south on the spinal cord; the cord is rarely cut entirely. Those connections around the injury site can’t conduct electricity, Dr. Keirstead found, because the insulation has been stripped. “I found a way to replace that insulation – it’s called myelin…we took stem cells…introduced them into a spinal cord injury and we re-mylenated, or re-insulated, those wires that were stripped that allow them to conduct electricity and restore walking ability.”
This is great news for spinal cord injuries. As for Dr. Keirstead’s hope that this kind of therapy could be used in human beings on a regular basis? Now that the first human clinical trial is completed, future trials should happen faster.
“We are at a new era in stem-cell biology where we’re beginning to see the tipping point – the translation from the bench to the bedside, because the process is now established,” he said.
The use of embryonic stem cells for therapies is particularly controversial, because many adhere to the belief that those embryonic stem cells otherwise could have been used to successfully form a human embryo. Many argue that we should not be “destroying life” for research. However, supporters of this research stress that they only use those embryonic stem cells that have already been discarded. In 2009, President Obama repealed a Bush-era policy that limited federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research.
“The use of stem cells for therapies, I consider a moral and ethical thing to do – from the point of using tissue that is a discard in the fertility process,” Dr. Keirstead said. “I don’t see a dichotomy in that.
However, many people do.
“We’re choosing to do research with tissue that was destined to be destroyed – a very important point. So it could never have formed a human. Therein lies the moral debate.”
3. Josh Nesbit
Bio: Josh Nesbit is the CEO of Medic Mobile, an organization using low-cost, mobile technology to create connected, coordinated health systems across ten countries. Medic Mobile develops and extends existing open-source platforms, including FrontlineSMS, OpenMRS, Ushahidi, Google Apps, and HealthMap. These tools support community health worker coordination and management, community mobilization for vaccination and satellite clinics, logistics and supply chain management, referrals, routine data collection, and mapping of health services. He is well recognized in the medical community and is a Echoing Green Fellow, PopTech Fellow, Rainer Arnhold Fellow, Strauss Scholar, and Haas Public Service Fellow.
Watch genConnect’s interview with Nesbit here:
Nesbit’s company focuses on bridging gaps in health systems – whether it be gaps between clinics and a community health worker 60 miles away, or between first responders responding to earthquake in Haiti to victims trapped under the rubble. “We focus on building mobile applications that function where mobile is the best, and sometimes the only way, to get access to information that’s needed,” Nesbit said. Longitudinal record tracking is a “huge challenge” in health care, particularly in countries with dire health care systems to begin with, he said. For example, in the Democratic Republican of the Congo, Nesbit noted, one in 20 rural women are dying in childbirth. “A big issue is just referral systems,” making sure who is pregnant and keeping up with appointments, who needs to be transferred in an emergency, etc… “People are literally lost in piles of paper that are stacked in back rooms.” Medic Mobile is trying to figure out how to allow health workers and patients coordinate in real-time, using a brand-new, amazing mobile infrastructure accessible by about 90 percent of the world’s infrastructure.
4. Leslie Dach
Bio: Leslie Dach serves as the Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Walmart, the nation and world’s largest grocer. Dach oversees Walmart’s company’s public policy, reputation management, corporate communications, philanthropy, government relations, social responsibility and sustainability initiatives, global security, aviation and travel departments.
Watch Part 1 of genConnect’s interview with Dach below:
Watch Part 2 of genConnect’s interview with Dach here
In January, Walmart teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat obesity.
“We felt we had a role to play and we’ve pledged to work to make the food we sell healthier, and make healthy foods more affordable,” Dach said.
Those efforts include reformulating the supply of food sold in Walmart stores across the U.S. It has pledged to remove 25 percent of the sodium, 10 percent of the sugar, and all of the added trans fat out of the food they sell across a variety of food categories. It’s also working to ensure their suppliers’ foods meet the same standards.
“We believe we have a special opportunity and a special responsibility as the world’s largest retailer to make a difference in the lives of our customers,” Dach said.
5. David Kirchhoff
Bio: David Kirchhoff is the CEO of Weight Watchers International, which in June 2011 was ranked by US News & World Report as the “Best Commercial Diet Plan” and the “Best Weight-Loss Diet.” In 2000, Kirchhoff was attending Weight Watchers meetings and following the program; the experience led to a 25-pound weight loss and a new outlook on food and exercise.
Watch genConnect’s interview with Kirchhoff below:
“From our earliest days, we’ve recognized that going through a behavior process like weight management is very difficult to do on your own – it just is. Support matters,” Kirchhoff said. Weight Watchers is embracing technology to have a vibrant online community on its Web site, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, on top of its wildly popular in-person meetings, to help people lose weight – and keep it off. Weight Watchers also has an iPhone application that lets people keep track of their program, literally with the convenience of their smartphone; Android and iPad apps are available, as well. Weight Watchers also overhauled its trademark point system 13 years ago to move toward a more holistic approach – such as encouraging more fruit intake. “What we recognize that our old system was based principally on the premise of calorie counting with some consideration for fat and fiber,” Kirchhoff said. “But what we recognize is we need to take a more holistic approach that really nudged people toward choices that were more nutritious, choices that were going to provide greater satisfaction.”
6. Gene Falk
Bio: Gene Falk helped develop mothers2mothers (m2m) while working as a senior executive in the media industry before leaving a long career in New York and moving to South Africa to oversee m2m’s roll-out and expansion. mothers2mothers is an NGO that helps to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV through an effective and sustainable model of education that supports mother and child health.
Watch genConnect’s interview with Falk below:
Gene Falk has seen first-hand what AIDS can do and the power of prevention. Falk is co-founder of the non-profit mothers2mothers (m2m), which started in South Africa but is now serving 700 locations in nine countries and seeing one out of every five HIV positive pregnant women in the world. What inspired him to create mothers2mothers? “Watching my friends die, living through the funerals and realizing that while the gay community was able to pull together and create institutions, it wasn’t going to be the same way for women in townships of South Africa or any of those parts of Africa,” said Falk as he recanted his life in New York City in the ’80s and ’90s. “Although they had the same capabilities, they didn’t have the resources. And that was an inspiration for me.”
For related stories on genConnect:
- Pills Prevent HIV/AIDS in Some People; AIDS Activist Gene Falk
- Aspen Ideas Festival: How We Can Reduce Obesity, Improve Health Care
- Food Pyramid Redux: USDA Replaces Pyramid With Plate Model
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