In addressing global health, one size does not fit all

by Tim Carter (MBA ’19)
“If you’ve been to one hospital in Nigeria… you’ve been to one hospital in Nigeria.”

This quote from the recent Unite for Sight Global Health & Innovation Conference that I attended at Yale University has stuck with me since returning to Ann Arbor. At the conference, I was given the opportunity to pitch a startup I have been helping launch during my time at Ross. The startup is called Advanced Innovative Medical Technologies, whose mission is to develop safe, easy-to-use, low-power, and affordable medical equipment to improve healthcare options for underserved groups on a global scale. The company has invented an ultra-low-cost ventilator designed to save the lives of infants with respiratory distress in low- and middle- income countries. While the conference was a great opportunity to pitch the startup and network with other like-minded professionals, I was also able to walk away with several key learnings that will help with not only scaling our startup, but future global engagement as well.

One size does not fit all

When developing solutions to global problems, it is easy to think that “one size fits all”. As alluded to in the opening quote, Often we visit a place once or twice and think we understand not only the local context, but the entire region as well. Worse yet, we may not even seek to understand the local context at all, or may assume the context is similar across the entire base of the pyramid. However, it is essential that any new product or concept is adapted to suit the local environment. Often, adaptations are needed not only country-to-country, but within countries as well.

Those closest to a problem are in the best position to solve it

Not only does one size not fit all, but unless a solution is developed either exclusively or in close collaboration with those impacted by the problem, the solution will not be sustainable. This theme reverberated throughout the conference as changemakers told stories of successes and failures they had while working to develop sustainable solutions to global health problems. When we do not incorporate the end-beneficiaries into the product or program design, not only will the solution be unsustainable, but it is also unlikely to achieve an impact in the short-term.

Remember that every cell phone comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo

In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, it is surprising how often we forget that we are dependent on one another. The Democratic Republic of the Congo supplies more than half of the world’s cobalt, which is an essential ingredient in every cell phone. If it wasn’t for the miners in the Congo, we would not be able to send text messages and communicate with ease. The same rule applies to every area of life. When we achieve small gains in global health improvement, it is not one person or a group coming up with an “innovative idea” that solves a problem. Successes come through a collaboration of key stakeholders across the entire value chain. We did it… together.