Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown at 4th Annual Health Innovations Conference: Building Resilient Healthcare Systems Through Innovation
Serena Hotel Kampala, Uganda | December 12, 2022 (as prepared for delivery)
Good morning. I am delighted to join you as we kick off the two-day fourth annual Health Innovations Conference which aims to harness new, emerging, and capable technologies to improve access to quality healthcare in Uganda and the region. Congratulations to IDI and your flagship program, the Academy of Health Innovations or The Academy as it is commonly called, for sustaining this conference, even during the recent turbulent period of the COVID-19 pandemic and the periodic outbreaks that continue to emerge and challenge us all.
I feel a bit out of place amid so many health care professionals, but I’m here today because the United States government recognizes that a healthy population is the foundation for a country’s stability and success. As the largest single provider of health assistance to 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 IDI, renowned for excellence in public health research, policy and capacity development, has been critical to this objective and has also helped to accomplish many things together.
IDI receives direct funding from several U.S. government agencies, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and USAID for HIV, TB, and global health security programs. IDI also collaborates with our National Institutes of Health or NIH under the Ugandan African Centers of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Data Intensive Sciences, also known as ACE. There are only two ACE centers on the African continent – one here in Uganda and one in Mali – where students are conducting cutting edge work. Just two months ago, I was at the ACE student showcase and saw some of the innovative work, such as development of a platform to track genomic epidemiology of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, machine learning based prediction of breast cancer, and creation of an app for adolescents with epilepsy.
These are all advances consistent with the theme of this conference, and it makes me and my colleagues at the U.S. Mission very proud to be associated with efforts to promote innovations to build resilient and sustainable healthcare systems. This conference is a valuable opportunity to collectively take stock of what we are innovating in our different spheres and share experiences that will ultimately improve the quality of care that can be provided in Uganda.
All of us benefit daily from innovations in technology and the creative solutions which put these innovations at our fingertips. A great example is the adaptation of multimedia communication tools for fast and efficient communications on health. Look at WhatsApp and its competitors. It is amazing how these platforms have been used to communicate on COVID-19 and now Ebola, in some cases “leap frogging” over more standard approaches. These innovations make us more effective and more efficient while legacy tools including email, phone calls and face-to-face interactions like we are having today remain important.
Innovations have advanced our medical, laboratory and public health sciences as has been demonstrated by the in-country expertise which has been mobilized to respond to HIV, TB, malaria, COVID-19 and now Ebola virus health crises in Uganda. Through continual learning and advancements in science, we are now able to carry out laboratory and clinical services in the Ebola response that were previously not possible. These innovations have also reached local levels through a trained workforce and planned infrastructure.
In HIV, we learned treatment was prevention. By lowering HIV viral load, we 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 is bringing us to the cusp of HIV epidemic control. Insecticide treated bed nets, spraying campaigns and now a vaccine for children is giving us hope for similar progress with malaria. COVID-19 taught us the importance of having a resilient health workforce capable of quickly delivering life-saving services including vaccines to a nation. Genomic sequencing and anti-microbial resistance technologies are greatly advancing prevention, detection, and response capabilities for health security.
The most exciting thing about innovation is its continuation. While we have made great strides, we have a lot of ground to cover. There will always be new technologies emerging. Our challenge in the health sector will be to make sure we implement them appropriately for the benefit of all in our global community. Costs, for instance, present a challenge to universal access to health services, especially to vulnerable and geographically inaccessible populations—who perhaps most need to benefit from these innovations.
I understand that The Academy is a major vehicle at IDI in driving collaborations in app development, Artificial Intelligence, health, block chain, and drone technology. From the ACE examples I mentioned, it is clear you have made commendable strides in innovation already! I hope that over these two days, you will be able to hear more about these and other developments—and even more innovations on the horizon. From the topics included in the program: data and bioinformatics, equity and inclusion, healthcare financing and sustainability, accelerating universal health coverage, innovations for global health security and climate change, and evaluating emerging technologies for resilience—I have no doubt that you will leave this conference recharged and energized to innovate and bring to scale what we have discovered works.
More pleasing perhaps is the fact that you will also be exploring frameworks for adoption of innovations as well as strengthening partnerships and collaborations for resilient healthcare systems. This will enable us to extend the benefits of these innovations to more people, at a lower cost, and at the appropriate scale. Equity, cost savings and prevention should be our priority. As we explore and come up with many commendable innovations, they are not always available equally across populations due to issues with cost and access. For instance, while rapid testing allows for quicker 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 COVID cases 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, get boosted, and encourage those important to you to do the same. And as you contemplate travel throughout this festive season, remember that the Ebola outbreak is not over until we conclude 42 days without any new cases. So let’s remain vigilant and continue to raise awareness
In closing, I wish to thank IDI leadership for purposely and strategically positioning innovation on the health agenda through The Academy. I also commend Makerere University, the United Nations Capital Development Fund, and many of you here present for supporting and embracing this annual conference on health innovation. On behalf of the U.S. government, I commit to a continuing partnership with IDI to harness health innovation for happier, healthier, and safer Ugandans.