On 16 February 2017, Corrs Partner and CEO John W.H. Denton AO addressed members of the Alliance for International Youth Development (AIYD) about innovation in health.

Below are John’s remarks.

When we talk about innovation in health, we tend to think of research programs run by white-coated scientists in laboratories.

In fact, there are opportunities for health leadership across many different fields and areas of expertise: from logistics and supply chain management, to urban planning, communications, and education for behavioural change.

Many of the biggest breakthroughs in developing economy health are coming from smart and simple solutions, delivered at scale, and in a cost-effective way.

Consider these examples…

  • Just twenty years ago, diarrhoea killed five million children worldwide every year. Now that number is around 750,000. The solution was to provide parents with a simple mixture of salt, sugar and water that they could administer at home.

  • In the early 1990s, vitamin A deficiency lowered the performance of 20% of pre-school children in developing countries. Vitamin A deficiency was further implicated in the deaths of 800,000 women and children each year, because weakened immune systems could not fight off a range of diseases. With the provision of low cost, twice-yearly supplements of vitamin A, child mortality in Nepal and other nations was halved in five years. [1]

To get these results, leaders across many organisations had to play their role.

Global NGOs, national health departments, and local authorities all had to find effective long-term ways to work together.

These major health innovations were not about breakthrough new research, but about innovation, common sense and a lot of cooperation, coordination and good management.

Contracts had to be planned and implemented so that all parties were clear about what was required of them over an extended period. The targeting and management of each program was expected to evolve as milestones were achieved.

Two other examples from the past decade:

  • In Malawi, bad roads and long traffic delays meant a high risk to women in labour (and their babies) on their way to hospital. Upgrading motorcycles into ambulances (with the addition of sidecars modified to stretchers) meant the travel time to hospital was cut by hours, reducing risk and saving lives.

  • In a Nigerian hospital, health workers saw the potential in obsolete infant incubators. They used the internet to acquire parts that enabled them to create modern incubators at a fraction of the cost of buying new equipment.

So innovation can take many forms. It can be global in scale or purely local. Often it’s both.

Right now, globalisation is being challenged and criticised on many fronts. But we know that global ideas, global plans and global partnerships are capable of delivering innovative solutions to people on the ground across the globe.

Both Australian and Indian health and related agencies are very experienced in global cooperation. And we have traditions of local problem solving, driven by necessity. Between us we have a formidable range of research institutes, government agencies, NGOs, and entrepreneurial individuals.

By constructing the right teams, we can build on past success to create effective, affordable solutions to our health problems.

It’s this kind of leadership group – the AIYD - that can make future innovation and help happen.