That’s a new one – normally Bill Gates seems quite capable in quite many fields.
However, the fact is that Bill Gates needs help. At a recent TED Talk he said, that our general inability to respond properly to epidemics – which was clearly illustrated by the Ebola out-break – should prompt us to get going and design the future epidemic response solution. All powers set aside, there is no way that Bill will be able to do that alone.
So what could be the role of design?

In the process leading up to INDEX: Award 2015 quite a few nominations addressing Ebola are submitted, proving that designers are concerned about Ebola and other epidemics. These solutions spans from Dr David Swann’s & Clare Swann’s Bleach Dilution Gauge which is a simple 1usd ruler, reducing the repetitive task of ensuring the WHO stipulated bleach dilution for cleaning just about everything in a highly contagious setting. Likewise, Skunkworks Team from Johns Hopkins University responded by designing a hazmat suit, with most protective gear integrated, zippers (!!) ensuring low contamination risk when undressing and a mask that does not fog up when you breathe. In addition, rapid diagnostic testers and emergency telecommunications clusters inspired by the Ebola out-break are among the nominations.

Also large scale alert and surveillance tools already exist. Back when SARS hit, Singapore engaged John Petersen from the Arlington Institute. They challenged him to design a system for identifying early indicators of upcoming threats to the Singaporean society. In addition, the global epidemic and mobility model, GLEAM, combines real-world data on populations and human mobility with elaborate stochastic models of disease transmission. The point being to deliver analytic and forecasting power to address the challenges faced when developing intervention strategies that minimize the impact of potentially devastating epidemics.

All these design solutions are capable of being part of future response systems.

But – the system…..? The system that should connect the dots does not exist. The coherent, well-designed and flexible system is simply not out there.
The first individual design solutions addressing the fear the world experienced after the Ebola outbreak are all great and much needed. Each solution is addressing a specific point in the large systemic design that we need to design to address not only Ebola, but also all epidemics to come.

The Ebola situation came under control due to amazing healthcare and logistics professionals that candidly put their own lives at stake and risked infecting their dear ones. However, the global community did not provide them with the support we really should have been able to offer. So we left them standing sweating, fighting and dying at the epidemic front.

However, the global community did not provide them with the support we really should have been able to offer. So we left them standing sweating, fighting and dying at the epidemic front

Bill suggests that we join the best abilities of R&D teams, the military and health care professionals to ensure strong health systems in developing countries, quick response medical corps, and logistics success.

Yes, we should!
Nevertheless, to that, I do suggest we design the system. The future epidemic alert and response system.

We need to map what is already out there in terms of solutions, needs and experience. We have to gather, share and visualize the data. We must secure strong surveillance systems with accessible interfaces and sharing modules. On top of that, we should train, form and equip the medical teams and develop the educations modules for crises as well as long-term healthcare. Then we must test, learn, test again, test, put into use and continue learning, improving and testing forever after.

We have to gather, share and visualize the data

Designers will of course not be able to do this alone – but they will for sure be able to add value to such a large-scale system that in the future hopefully will make us capable of having the back of those dying and helping on the epidemic front.
Bill needs help – Let us get going.


Photo: Dr David Swann & Clare Swann Designers and Directors: Design Helps Limited

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