10 System-Changing Ideas for Health from the Newest Class of Ashoka Fellows

As the summer season draws to a close, we can still enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables and spend lots of time outside. We may be more conscious of health during summer, when the living is easy; but for many champions in the newest class of Ashoka Fellows, health is a year-round preoccupation. Here are several of their system-changing ideas for health.  

Health Insurance in Pakistan 

Medical catastrophes are often linked to poverty for millions of vulnerable people across much of the world. Direct access to quality health care is usually too expensive for low-income people; in many societies, finding a way to insure them is not an expectation.

In order to extend quality health care to low-income clients, Asher Hasan is scaling-up demand for private health-care services. The organization he founded three years ago, Naya Javeen, distributes buy-in and cost insurance costs across three payers: the wealthy employer of domestic staff, the company that is the parent employer, and the domestic worker who is the plan beneficiary.

Science and Research in the United States

In the life sciences, the current approach to conducting research is inhibited by the traditional reward structures of academia (publishing) and industry (patenting). These proprietary practices inhibit advances in our understanding of disease because they reinforce data-hoarding rather than data-sharing.

Stephen Friend is transitioning the field to practices of collaboration and non-duplicative efforts. Harnessing a critical moment of transition in genomic and biomedical science (small data sets are evolving into ones that are too large for any single lab), Friend founded Sage Bionetworks in Seattle in 2009; the organization’s team of 20 is creating a stronger and more-explicit alignment with human health and patient outcomes.

Mental Health and Well Being

In Ireland, adequate mental health care is out of reach for many who need it because public offerings are too slow and the private market is too costly. Mental health issues also carry a tremendous stigma.

Krystian Fikert is crafting a highly-scalable social franchise model that offers affordable and easily-accessible mental health care with service for all. MyMind has a large team of mental health professionals (30 on staff) available for face-to-face services, accessed through self-referral. The organization focuses mainly on widespread issues of depression, anxiety, relationships, and addiction, with an overall strategic focus on early intervention and prevention.

Although mental health issues are widespread, getting people to admit to problems and seek treatment is a significant obstacle; there are few channels to find support in a discreet way. In Sri Lanka, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Services (MHPSS) has emerged as a key dimension of humanitarian and development work during and after emergencies.

Founded by Ananda Galapatti and his colleagues, the MHPSS Network is an interactive, online platform that uses technology to strengthen linkages among mental health psychosocial practitioners working in areas of disaster, conflict, and chronic adversity. Its aims to learn and share good practices and conceptualize creative solutions to pending psychosocial issues in disaster management.

Medical Training and Patient Care

A study called “To Err is Human” claimed that 100,000 patients die every year due to medical errors in the United States alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that "medical errors and health-care related adverse events” occur in about 10 percent of hospitalizations worldwide.

These staggering figures are evidence of the need for effective training. Dr. Amitai Ziv and his Israeli Center for Medical Simulation (MSR) employ a host of approaches – through teaching, equipment development, and field development – to mitigate medical error for the sake of improving and increasing world-wide patient safety and eventually freeing professionals from the constraints of defensive medicine.

Disease Control and Testing

According to the World Health Organization, 35 million deaths are caused worldwide due to non-communicable diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and chronic respiratory diseases. Jordi Marti has developed a new method to analyze specific biochemical parameters – uric acid, cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, glucose – in dried blood samples.

These variables allow physicians to track critical risk factors of silent maladies that are the main causes of death and disability. The system allows testing of multiple other parameters at a lower cost, increasing accessibility of service and providing relevant information to local governments to make informed policy decisions.

In Latin America alone, an estimated 25 million people are infected with Chagas disease, while another 100 million are susceptible; the disease kills 45,000 people annually. There are 50 million annual dengue infections worldwide. Around 300 million people live with malaria, which kills around 1 million people every year.

The damage caused by these endemic diseases is worsened by the prevalence of poverty in many parts of the world. But Pilar Mateo has created a special paint, Infesfly, a technological achievement that uses a special component to inhibit the growth of insect larvae, resulting in the elimination of malaria and other insect-borne diseases. 

Food and Nutrition

Childhood obesity in America has more than tripled during the past 30 years. It’s a recent and dramatically worsening crisis that particularly affects lower-income Americans. Improved food-preservation technologies, the industrialization and automation of kitchens, and the significant power of the commodities industry has meant that processed foods are substantially cheaper, more readily available, and easier to work with than fresh, healthy choices.

But Kirsten Richmond and Kristin Tobey saw a huge opportunity to contribute to school efficacy and student health by improving the food offerings that schools made available to their students, particularly in low-income neighborhoods. Revolution Foods designs and supplies healthy meals — breakfast, lunch, and after school snacks — to partner schools, 70 percent of which are charter schools serving largely low-income students. Meals are home-style, portioned, and balanced nutritionally and arrive to schools once daily from a central, regional kitchen, and all qualify for the federal school lunch program's reimbursement.

It’s not just health care that our new class of Ashoka Fellows are doing systems-changing work on! Next, we’ll look at our new Fellows and the innovations they are bringing to economic development, education, human rights, and the environment.