Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at the 4th Annual Health Innovations Conference: Building Resilient Health Systems Through Innovation
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at the 4th Annual Healthcare Innovations Conference: Building resilient health systems through innovation
Serena Hotel Kampala, Uganda | December 12, 2022 (as prepared for delivery)
Hello. I am delighted to join you as we kick off the fourth annual two-day Health Innovations Conference, which aims to harness new, emerging technologies that can improve access to health care from quality in Uganda and the region. Congratulations to the IDI and your flagship program, the Academy of Health Innovations or The Academy as it is commonly known, for supporting this conference, even during the recent turbulent times of the COVID-19 pandemic and the periodic outbreaks that continue to emerge and challenge us all.
I feel out of place among so many medical professionals, but I am here today because the United States government recognizes that a healthy population is the foundation for the stability and success of a country. As the largest provider of health assistance in Uganda, the United States is committed to improving the health of all citizens so they can live longer, more prosperous lives and better contribute to their communities and the growth of their country. Our enduring partnership with the IDI, renowned for its excellence in research, policy and capacity development in public health, has been essential to this goal and has also contributed to accomplishing many things together.
The IDI receives direct funding from several US government agencies, including the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USAID for HIV, TB and global health security programs. The IDI also collaborates with our National Institutes of Health or NIH as part of Uganda Africa Centers of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Data Intensive Science, also known as ACE. There are only two ACE centers on the African continent – one here in Uganda and one in Mali – where students do cutting-edge work. Just two months ago I was at the ACE Student Showcase and saw some of the innovative work, such as the development of a platform to track the genomic epidemiology of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, the prediction based about breast cancer machine learning and creating an app for teens with epilepsy.
These are all advances consistent with the theme of this conference, and it makes me and my colleagues in the US Mission very proud to be associated with efforts to promote innovations to build resilient and sustainable health systems. This conference is a valuable opportunity to collectively take stock of what we are innovating in our different fields and to share experiences that will ultimately improve the quality of care that can be provided in Uganda.
We all benefit daily from technological innovations and creative solutions that put these innovations at our fingertips. A good example is the adaptation of multimedia communication tools for fast and effective health communications. Look at WhatsApp and its competitors. It is amazing how these platforms have been used to communicate about COVID-19 and now Ebola, in some cases “jumping” from more standard approaches. These innovations make us more efficient and effective, while legacy tools, including email, phone calls, and face-to-face interactions, as we have today, remain important.
Innovations have advanced our medical, laboratory and public health sciences, as demonstrated by the national expertise that has been mobilized to respond to the health crises of HIV, TB, Malaria, COVID-19 and now Ebola virus in Uganda. Through continuous learning and scientific advancements, we are now able to provide laboratory and clinical services as part of the Ebola response, which was not possible before. These innovations have also reached local levels through a trained workforce and planned infrastructure.
In the case of HIV, we have learned that treatment is prevention. By reducing HIV viral load, we have reduced transmission and improved health outcomes for people living with HIV. Additional innovations in laboratory and data sciences have put information at the fingertips of healthcare providers and public health specialists and are bringing us to the dawn of controlling the HIV epidemic. Insecticide-treated bed nets, spraying campaigns and now a vaccine for children give us hope for similar progress with malaria. COVID-19 has taught us the importance of having a resilient health workforce able to quickly deliver lifesaving services, including vaccines, to a nation. Genomic sequencing and antimicrobial resistance technologies are dramatically advancing prevention, detection and response capabilities for health security.
The most exciting thing about innovation is its continuation. Although we have made great progress, we have a long way to go. There will always be new technologies emerging. Our challenge in the health sector will be to ensure that we implement them appropriately for the benefit of all in our global community. Costs, for example, present a challenge for universal access to health services, especially for vulnerable and geographically inaccessible populations, who may most need to benefit from these innovations.
I understand that The Academy is a major vehicle for IDI in driving collaborations in app development, artificial intelligence, healthcare, blockchain and drone technology. From the ACE examples I have mentioned, it is clear that you have already made commendable progress in innovation! I hope that during these two days you will be able to learn more about these and other developments, and even more innovations on the horizon. Among the topics included in the program: data and bioinformatics, equity and inclusion, health care financing and sustainability, accelerating universal health coverage, innovations for global health security and climate change, and assessment of emerging technologies for resilience. – I have no doubt that you will leave this conference recharged and energized to innovate and scale what we have discovered works.
Perhaps more enjoyable is the fact that you will also explore frameworks for adopting innovations as well as strengthening partnerships and collaborations for resilient health systems. This will allow us to extend the benefits of these innovations to more people, at lower cost and at the appropriate scale. Fairness, cost savings and prevention must be our priority. While we explore and deliver many laudable innovations, they are not always equally available to all populations due to cost and access issues. For example, while rapid tests allow for faster response and improved medical services to increase survival, it is more cost effective to prevent such health events. On the subject of prevention, it’s great that we can be here together without masks, but cases of COVID have recently been reported in Uganda and are on the rise in my country and elsewhere. Vaccines are effective and they remain available. Get the jab, boost yourself, and encourage those who are important to you to do the same. And as you plan to travel throughout this festive season, remember that the Ebola outbreak is not over until we conclude 42 days with no new cases. So let’s stay vigilant and keep raising awareness
In conclusion, I would like to thank the leadership of the IDI for deliberately and strategically positioning innovation in the health agenda in The Academy. I also congratulate Makerere University, the United Nations Capital Development Fund and many of you here today for supporting and embracing this annual health innovation conference. On behalf of the U.S. government, I pledge to maintain a partnership with the IDI to harness health innovation for happier, healthier, and safer Ugandans.