Summary Report of Public Health Innovation Today

Cov360’s Public Health Innovation Day focussed on how innovations can be implemented to overcome barriers to health service access in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs), as well as discussing how effective Public Health initiatives can enhance vaccine confidence.

The panel

  • Dr Ernest Madu, a founder and Chairman of the Heart Institute of the Caribbean. Cardiologist, named among the 100 most Influential People in Healthcare in 2017, and expert in systems change
  • Amel Najjar, founder and Executive Director of Children of War Foundation, delivering access to transformational healthcare in conflict zone. Ms Najjar is also on the Board of Advisors for the UN Women for Peace Association.
  • Dr Tracey Chantler, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Assistant Professor in Public Health Evaluation. Vaccine Centre Steering Group member, with a specialism in public health evaluation and anthropology.

Event facilitator, Theo Richardson-Gool, Cov360 CEO.

Inequalities in Health Service Access

Dr Madu focussed on the importance of addressing the wider determinants of health to reduce inequalities in health service access and health outcomes. He also emphasised the need to improve children’s lives through their parents stating, “the most effective way to protect children from spiralling into a life of poverty and disease is to secure the future of their parents”.

To alleviate poverty and overcome health inequalities Dr Madu noted, it is essential to build educational and technological infrastructure at a local level. He advised enhancing infrastructure would aid the reduction of inequalities, the delivery of local health care as well as driving down the cost of providing services in low-resource areas.

The most effective way to protect children from spiralling into a life of poverty and disease is to secure the future of their parents

Investment in health infrastructure in low-resource settings will also be fundamental to increase the ease with which the COVID-19 vaccination will be distributed in the future.

Medical ‘Brain Drain’

Amel Najjar discussed the work of the Children at War Foundation which when first founded sponsored doctors from LMICs to travel to the US to receive speciality training. The training aimed to improve speciality medical knowledge in low-resource environments. However, Ms Najjar emphasised that many of the doctors remained in the US. The experience highlights the medical ‘brain drain’ which describes the flow of trained medical professionals from LMICs to high-income countries (HICs).

In recent years, HICs have instigated financial incentives to health professionals from LMICs to encourage medically trained individuals to migrate. Dr Madu explained that this means many LMICs “subsidise the richest countries in the world.”

“Technological innovation offers opportunities to train locally, curb the brain drain, retain talent, and strengthen local capacity.”

Technological innovation offers opportunities to train locally, curb the brain drain, retain talent, and strengthen local capacity. Ms Najjar explained that remote training is already transforming healthcare including with the use of augmented reality headsets. With over 50% of the global population now internet users (ITU 2020) and digital divide closing further, training with remote technology provides an opportunity to build capacity in LMICs.

Vaccine Confidence

Dr Chantler explained that although it is crucial to acknowledge that vaccine hesitancy exists, it is helpful to use the term vaccine confidence to encourage uptake. Tailoring information to suit the needs of the target group is central to ensuring high vaccination coverage. In addition, Dr Chantler further explained how social media can be a useful tool to understand sentiment and emotions regarding treatments and future vaccines for Covid-19.

“Tailoring information to suit the needs of the target group is central to ensuring high vaccination coverage.”

The Vaccine Centre at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also uses innovative approaches to promote vaccine confidence. This entails encouraging the public to ask questions to gain an understanding, as well as encouraging them to develop their own knowledge.

In relation to effectively disseminating a prospective vaccine, Dr Chantler explained that it is vital to ensure planning committees include those working on the ground delivering vaccines, as well as politicians, academics and scientists. She stressed that it is important to train practitioners in how to address vaccine hesitancy and counter conspiracy theories, so that experts and medical practitioners are equipped to reassure patients and answer concerns.

Concluding remark

Cov360’s Public Health Innovation Day offered a valuable insight into how to overcome global health inequalities by building capacity. The speakers emphasised how existing knowledge and technology has been harnessed to respond to the pandemic, and the importance of organisations being ‘change ready’ to enable them to adapt successfully.

Key things for organisations to utilise to innovate

Dr Madu encouragingly suggested that a person must have “expansive ideas…you have to be able to run wild with your dreams”. He also emphasised the importance of having commitment as well as passion as “passion will fade away quickly, but the commitment will restore your passion.”

Amel Najjar highlighted the centrality of exchanging information and appreciating that “knowledge and capabilities that already exist”.  Furthermore, she stated organisations must involve local communities so they can “invest in their own human capital to build their own infrastructure.”

Dr Chantler reminded attendees it is important to question: “…what it is that innovation is trying to address, [and] then you add the imagination.” That, when you introduce innovation you need to build on the strengths that already exist, and establish “consistent and robust health leadership”.


By Charlotte Bexson and Theo Richardson-Gool.

Charlotte holds a masters in public health from Imperial College London, and is a coronavirus analyst in London. Theo is the CEO of Cov360.

22 December 2020

You can watch the full event here:

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