New Thinking on Countering Outbreaks

If Ebola has taught us anything, it is that there is room for innovation in the way we respond to outbreaks.


It has been more than a year since we began tackling this latest epidemic and, while significant progress has been made, there are still challenges to be overcome and gaps to be filled.

When I saw the early data around Ebola in West Africa, I urged my team to act swiftly to address critical needs. I have since committed $100 million toward this effort and have been actively involved in identifying and catalyzing solutions.

Left to right: Scott Case, Claudia Williams, Mickey Urdea, Mark Perkins, Sarah Manthey and Carole Chapelier

Just last week, I partnered with Skoll Global Threats Fund and USAID to host the Ebola Innovation Summit — an interactive event, designed to bring new tools, people, ways of thinking and ultimately innovations to the forefront.

The event drew a diverse group of people from around the world — from the tech and private sectors to nonprofits, government and academia. The collective commitment of this group is a great example for how we should collaborate to tackle global problems like Ebola.

For me, the most important lessons I took away from the day are:

1. Innovation comes in all forms. Innovation in Ebola is not just new technology or advances in science. Resourcefulness can also be innovative. In the absence of IV fluids, oral rehydration solutions used to treat Cholera proved life saving for Ebola patients. The response to this outbreak has shown us the value of combining expertise, ideas and tools from multiple sectors in novel ways.

2. We need 21st century tools to solve 21st century problems. We cannot only rely on the way things were done in the past. Relying on the status quo is ineffective and does not prepare us for the future. For example, we must work to apply cutting-edge technology to vastly improve data collection and coordination, and advance diagnostics in emergency response.

3. No one group can solve a problem of this scale alone — neither the global health community, nor individual countries. It was great to see how quickly African countries pulled together and sent their own trained military doctors and nurses to treat those infected.

We have to be ready to say that we don’t have all the answers. We must be willing to change the way we work and find the best answer through an exhaustive search for new approaches.

4. Know the gaps. This outbreak showed us that identifying and addressing gaps at an earlier point in a response phase is critical to gaining ground against Ebola. We must fully address the gaps exposed in this outbreak and learn from them to better prepare for the future.

During the Summit, I was particularly inspired by the words of Dr. Rajiv Shah and Dr. David Nabarro.

Dr. Shah encouraged us to take risks when he said, “It takes a certain boldness, a certain willingness to break rules” to achieve changes at scale that make a real difference.

Dr. David Nabarro

He’s right. If an idea isn’t a little out of the box, it’s probably not good enough.

Dr. Nabarro called on the group to “innovate in every way we can. The power of collaboration cannot be underestimated.”

My commitment to finding ways to tackle Ebola drives my interest in funding new ideas to address the challenges we discussed at the Summit. Ebola isn’t getting as much attention now as it was six months ago. That means we’re at a critical juncture when it is too easy to backslide to the way we were thinking before the outbreak occurred. I want to do my part to keep up the momentum and incentivize further solutions to fill the gaps exposed by the Ebola response.

My challenge to you is to remain committed, take risks, close gaps and be willing to change the status quo. I encourage you to take the lessons learned from the Summit and be a part of the solution by contributing an idea for funding: PGAFamilyFoundation.org/EbolaInnovationProposals.

Ebola is not somebody else’s problem. It is our problem. We must define a collective vision and ways to create a better future. Because what we do today will save lives tomorrow.


Read more about Paul G. Allen’s Ebola program at PGAFamilyFoundation.org and learn how you can help at TackleEbola.org
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