In the past year, we all witnessed – most of us from afar – the tragedy that unfolded in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea with the Ebola epidemic. However, it may surprise many people that a much bigger crisis unfolding across all of the low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is that of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Many people think of these as diseases of the rich or the West, but nearly 80% of NCD cases are in LMICs.
What compounds this crisis even further is that these same countries still have the burden of infectious disease – be it Hepatitis B, HIV or malaria – and they are still trying to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates.
To address the strain of infectious and non-infectious diseases on already overwhelmed health systems, the Novartis Foundation together with our partners, aim to pioneer innovative healthcare models that have a transformational impact on the health of the poorest populations around the world. To do this, we need innovative digital health technology to help us design, test and validate our models.
Technology is a key enabler to achieve greater patient reach and empowerment, and gives us the ability to test and scale healthcare solutions quicker and more effectively.
However, these are complex problems we are trying to solve. With anything complex, we need people with diverse backgrounds and ways of thinking to come up with the best solutions. This, of course, includes women.
We can all feel discouraged when we read about the low number of women in computer science and engineering – at least I am.
However, in a recent article I read in the New York Times on the number of women studying to become engineers, I saw some hope. The author noted that “at the core of each of the programs [successful courses that have a high number of female engineers enrolled] is a focus on engineering that is cutting edge, with an explicit social context and mission.”
This makes perfect sense to me. Being able to study advanced science and give back to society is certainly what drove me to study medicine, and we can see more and more women following this path. In my experience, women in science and medicine are not only smart and forward thinking, but also creative and collaborative.
Creativity and collaboration, as well as a diversity of thinking across both gender and cultural experience, is exactly what is required in technology applied to global health; very often the solutions and models we need are not a linear progression of healthcare as seen in high-income countries, but rather a visionary leap into the future.
The time to act on this global health crisis is now – so now is the time for women to add their experience and expertise to information technology science.
The Novartis Foundation was the principal sponsor of ITU’s Girls in ICT Day 2015 event held at Geneva headquarters on 23 April 2015. ITU welcomed 116 girls from local schools in Geneva as a part of our global celebrations. The programme included a range of workshops held throughout the day, such as creative coding, mobile app lab, satellites, website design, programming visualizations and programming robotics. ITU also hosted speed mentoring with women who work in the ICT sector and an ICT career fair.
International Girls in ICT Day is celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday in April. Events have been organized in over 150 countries, hosted by ITU, its Member States, Sector Members, NGOs, universities and other organizations with the aim to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in the growing field of information and communication technology (ICT).
By Ann Aerts
Before her current role, Ann was Franchise Medical Director Critical Care for Novartis Pharma in Basel and Therapeutic Area Head Cardiovascular and Metabolism in Novartis Pharma Belgium.
Prior to joining Novartis, she served as Director of the Lung and Tuberculosis Association in Belgium, as Head of the Health Services Department of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva and was Health Coordinator for the ICRC in several countries.
Ann holds a Degree in Medicine and a Masters in Public Health from the University of Leuven, Belgium, as well as a Degree in Tropical Medicine from the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium.