On the margins of a special session of the World Health Assembly on pandemic preparedness, the UNAIDS Health Innovation Exchange (HIEx) hosted a dialogue between key leaders from both the public and private sectors on the importance of innovations and investments for resilient health systems. The dialogue allowed policymakers to exchange ideas with leading investors and innovators on how to develop innovative models of funding and on ecosystem-building for scaling access to health care and connect financing partnerships to the essential innovations.
"COVID-19 was not just a wake-up call for our global pandemic preparedness, it was a wake-up call to every health system around the world that unless we truly embrace the technology that is at our fingertips, we will be killing many multiples of the number of victims claimed by COVID-19. Health care is one of the few industries left to make this transition, COVID-19 has given us the vital catalyst to do so," said Joe Stringer, the Managing Partner of Octopus Ventures.
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fragility of health systems around the world and highlighted the critical importance of building resilience. The special session of the World Health Assembly brought countries together to discuss a pandemic treaty, with hopes of agreeing on a new global architecture that can help prevent future outbreaks.
Averting future pandemics will require scaling up investments in building resilient health systems. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the potential of innovation, from the use of artificial intelligence for diagnosis, to rapid repurposing of telemedicine platforms to train health-care workers, to the development of new vaccines and therapeutics. It has also reinforced the importance of connecting communities and the public and private sectors in building trust and delivering on scale.
"We need to invest in innovations that can help rapidly scale up access to health care for all," said Pradeep Kakkattil, the Director of the UNAIDS Office of Innovations and the co-founder of HIEx. "Creating a strong and functioning innovation ecosystem along with new financing models that leverage public and private investments for impact is essential to avert future pandemics and enable countries to reach their health goals," he added.
Exploring through practical examples the role that innovations, including digital health solutions, can play in future-proofing health systems, the event showcased outstanding innovations with the potential to transform health-care systems. These high-potential innovations included a safe last mile transport solution for essential biologicals such as vaccines and medications (Blackfrog Technologies), a virtual platform that enables real-time clinical exchange and surgical collaboration (Proximie), an innovative lighting technology that sanitizes spaces (BIOVITAE), accessible diagnostic solutions (Molbio Diagnostics), drone-based logistics for health care (RigiTech) and real-time community data on health-care challenges and quality of services (Dure Technologies), among others. Despite diverse thematic areas, a common thread that connects these innovations is the underlying need to build solutions that address global health-care challenges and enhance pandemic preparedness.
"COVID-19 has taught us that innovative solutions to fighting pandemics are both essential and investible. Local innovators are best equipped to create these solutions for their own communities but often lack resources outside of mature innovation ecosystems, most notably access to early-stage capital," said Andrew Nerlinger, the Managing Partner of the Global Health Security Fund. "The private sector can't just sit back and watch. We need to support these innovators by actually investing while building confidence in other impact investors to do the same."
Recognizing the integral role that health innovations play in strengthening health systems, StartupBlink and HIEx launched the Coronavirus Resilience Innovation Map. It is a dynamic mapping of private sector innovations and start-ups that have strengthened the capacities of many countries in responding to health crises. The map also celebrates the locations where COVID-19-related innovations were created, with preliminary rankings of innovation output in 150 cities and 60 countries. The comprehensive database can allow investors, leaders and policymakers to connect with relevant innovators to identify gaps and advance shared health-care objectives.
In line with its role as a global health and innovation connector, HIEx also used the event to present a number of new initiatives, innovations and partnerships that will form key pieces of the future health innovation ecosystem, have a potential to work with countries to improve their health outcomes and that strengthen the HIEx partnership network.
HIEx and Tata Consultancy Services will partner on a Specialized and Proficient Integrated Network of Experts (SPINE) for health and well-being to leverage the expertise across sectors around the globe to leverage innovations and develop solutions for scaling access to health care. SPINE will be available to countries to prototype innovations to address their specific health challenges.
HIEx will also partner with Health in your Hands, an initiative developed under the aegis of the United Arab Emirates' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Global Council SDG 3 initiative. The partnership will bring together the respective health innovation pipelines of the two entities to facilitate effective collaboration across innovators for scale and impact.
HIEx is a UNAIDS-initiated partnership platform bringing together policymakers, innovators and investors to leverage health innovations and investments to save and improve lives around the world. It fosters public--private partnerships that can help to scale proven technologies and innovations to maximize reach and health impact, especially for the most vulnerable communities.