What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"
I work to apply technology in innovative and hopefully appropriate ways to help address difficult development challenges. In many cases, I serve as a bridge between the tech side of things and the sector experts or the development practitioners who ultimately end up using these technologies.
What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on public health?
There have been some incredible advances recently in vaccines -- much of it thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation -- that will have a huge, measurable impact in terms of saving children's lives. Increased mobile phone connectivity, especially for the world's rural poor, will have very broad and positive implications for health. It is providing a platform for emerging innovations in mHealth such as ChildCount+, but even beyond that, simply having the ability to call for help is saving lots of lives.
What's something that most people just don't understand about your field?
What's possible. I think we're still just wrapping our heads around what universal connectivity will ultimately mean. By universal connectivity, I'm referring to a state where the majority of people in the world are connected to the Internet with what amounts to a full multimedia computer in their pockets. Just think about that! It will happen sooner then we realize, and it will have huge social, economic, and developmental ramifications.
What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the health care sector?
I think we're going to increasingly turn to smartphone apps combined with smart meters, capable of measuring blood sugar, blood pressure, etc., to help monitor and manage our personal health. Mobile apps also provide a lot of exciting opportunities for the gamification of personal health.
What's a health trend that you wish would go away?
The bipartisan treatment of health care in the United States. It's a disgrace. We are one of the richest nations on earth, and yet we can't even agree on the value of basic health care for all. In context, I wonder if the United States should really consider itself "developed" when it risks getting such basic things wrong.
What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?
I'm often pulled off track by exciting new technologies that aren't yet market-ready or practical for the current task at hand. It's fun to see what's coming down the pipe though.
Who are three people you'd put in the public health Hall of Fame?
Jeffrey and Sonia Sachs: A lot of global health issues are intractably linked to poverty and thus need to be addressed not only with good science but also with policy. There are very few people who work as tirelessly behind the scenes to fight for the rights of the poor as Professor Sachs and his pediatrician wife do.