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Innovations For Lower-Income Countries Developed Through Invention Need Implementation

Nathan Myhrvold, head of Intellectual Ventures and former Microsoft chief technology officer, writes about invention — “an inherently risky thing” — in a Huffington Post “TED Weekends” opinion piece, stating, “We apply all of the same brain power and capabilities used in our for-profit invention work and focus them on inventions to improve life in developing countries.” He continues, “For every idea that works, there are dozens of others that fail at the same task. … Those failures aren’t an argument against inventions to help the world’s poor; they’re an argument for more inventions to help them.” He says inventions must be “applicable, affordable and accessible,” because “this combination is a recipe for the ultimate measure of success — impact.” Myhrvold, who delivered a 2010 TED speech titled “Could This Laser Zap Malaria?,” writes, “So, to the critics who say we’ll fail, I offer this: You’re absolutely right. But that’s part of being an inventor. … At best, we’ll invent technology that transforms life for the people who need it most and, in the process, inspire more technology companies to work their magic for the developing world” (8/16).

In an accompanying opinion piece, Stuart Rennie, associate professor in the Department of Social Medicine at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and core faculty at the UNC Bioethics Center, writes, “Nathan Myhrvold’s talk … got me thinking about the relationship between inventors and implementers of health-related technology, particularly technology aimed at tackling important health issues in developing countries.” He continues, “Developing a technological innovation (be it a drug, device or a machine) is generally not enough in itself to make a significant impact on a disease on a population level.” Because “[i]n order to effect real change, you need more than inventors: You need implementers” — “those who take innovations, and try to turn them into the ‘new normal’ in the field, in communities, in health care systems,” he states. “Of course, in the face of serious and persistent diseases like malaria, we do need inventors and their innovations,” Rennie writes, concluding, “But to fulfill the promise of human ingenuity, and ensure inventions to improve global health are more than laser light shows at prestigious conferences, we desperately need the implementers too” (8/16).