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To Attack the Most Intractable Public Health Crises, Try Technology

At Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference on Tuesday, Fortune CEO Alan Murray hosted a crew of worldwide do-gooders who are using technology to attack the most intractable public health crises. The powerhouse panel consisted of Harvard professor Dr. Caroline Buckee, Merck EVP and chief patient officer Dr. Julie Gerberding, Dr. Carla Kriwet, EVP and CEO of connected care at Royal Philips, and Peter Sands, executive director at the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

All of these individuals said innovation in both tech and fundamental strategy has shaped their businesses while helping fight infectious diseases and solve logistical health care issues on the ground.

Take, for instance, Puerto Rico after the devastation of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, which made supply transport nearly impossible. “In collaboration with mobile phone operators and other companies that have data on population displacement, we combine that with epidemiological data to figure out where we place resources to contain outbreaks and also in forecasting,” said Harvard’s Buckee, explaining that satellite technology was critical to finding the most efficient routes for getting around the island.

Merck’s Gerberding (like several other Brainstorm Health speakers) touted the burgeoning importance of drones for medical transport, especially in the wake of climate change. New drone technologies that can keep treatments like vaccines cold are a significant advance in some of the world’s hottest (and ever-heating) areas.

Of course, innovation isn’t always rooted in new gadgetry—new forms of collaboration matter, too. “The Global Fund itself was a striking example of institutional innovation. We are involved with private sector partners in all sorts of different ways,” said Sands. That includes linking private providers in poor regions like India with NGOs in order to deliver treatment for communicable diseases like tuberculosis.

Imagine going to a remote part of Kenya only to find “fully functional community hospitals connected, data wise, with a more university hospitals around in Nairobi,” said Royal Philips’ Kriwet, whose organization has set the ambitious goal of improving the lives of three billion people by 2030.

Sometimes, it’s easy to forget these kinds of innovations aren’t fever dreams—they’re happening, on the ground, at this very moment.

This post first appeared in Fortune’s Brainstorm Health Daily newsletter. For more coverage of Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference, click here.