“Health is the last frontier of information technology,” observed Gabi Zedlmayer. And she should know—she runs Hewlett-Packard’s office for global social innovation.
"This is true everywhere," she continued, speaking on a panel Friday morning. "Even in the first world. You can pull cash out of an ATM in Kenya, yet if you switch from one doctor to another in the same American city, you are likely to encounter the problem of how to get your paperwork across town."
Zedlmayer described one initiative to which HP has applied its technological sophistication. In Kenya, there was such a time lag between testing newborns for HIV and processing those tests that the results often came four months later—three months too late for antiretroviral drugs to work. But by simply digitizing the system, she said, they’ve already seen that number go down.
What’s needed to complete their vision? IT alone is not enough. Zedlmayer called for a full "eco system": Pharma, R&D, the works. Much of HP’s approach is through partnerships, which the company has established with many organizations, including Global Health Corps, the non-profit founded and run by Barbara Bush.
Bush talked passionately about her company's accomplishments. “We need to engage young leaders right now,” she said, explaining that Global Health Corps was created on the Teach for America model: recruit the best and the brightest, just out of university, and send them into the field—wherever there's a need—for one year. “They see how they fit into the solution throughout their lives.”
Global Health Corps fellows have all kinds of backgrounds, she said, from architecture to business, but the point is to get them engaged early, so that global health issues will always be a part of their lives.
Zedlmayer closed the conversation with an emphasis on social innovation. The skills in the auditorium alone, she said, exemplified the power of collective resources.
“Let’s get out of our seats and take a look at our own neighborhoods,” she challenged the audience. “Get out of our seats!” With a contagious laugh, she rose to her feet.