Since 2011, Flu Near You, a collaboration between the American Public Health Association, HealthMap of Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Skoll Global Threats Fund, has collected weekly reports of influenza-like illness symptoms from volunteers in the United States and Canada. With well over 100,000 user registrations and recently surpassing 1,000,000 total reports, we’ve shown that we really can put the public back into public health.
Now that Flu Near You has demonstrated its current value and future potential as a public health surveillance tool, we’d like to engage researchers, data scientists, statisticians, epidemiologists and others in answering a fundamental question that will guide our continued development of Flu Near You – how many volunteer reports do we need to meet our public health surveillance goals? We’ve worked with Innocentive to develop a challenge to solicit a wide variety of ideas and approaches to answering this question. We would encourage you to take a look here and share widely within your networks.
Dr. Larry Brilliant, our senior advisor and former president who was a key player in smallpox eradication, writes in the Wall Street Journal about what we should do about Ebola and future infectious disease threats. Better detection, new diagnostics, applying new technologies to proven practices like containment, and better cross-border regional collaboration are all important areas where progress in being made, but needs to be accelerated. Read the article here.
Scott Field, a friend and colleague, sadly passed away last weekend in a hiking accident in the French Alps. Scott had recently left the Skoll Global Threats Fund to take up a position in the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria, and was temporarily in Geneva waiting for paperwork to allow his move to Damascus. Scott was deeply committed to working toward peace in the Middle East, and his dedication and insights will be sorely missed. Our condolences go out to all the friends around the world who were lucky enough to know Scott, as well as his family in Australia.
My friend and colleague, Larry Brilliant, is retiring from the Skoll Global Threats Fund in January 2015, having helped conceptualize and launch the organization five years ago. I could have picked no one better to get this important effort off the ground. As President since inception, Larry leaves behind a strong team and innovative approaches to addressing some of the world’s most urgent global problems. Larry will continue to contribute his energy and ideas in a different capacity, transitioning into a role as Senior Advisor to me, where he will help me as I build the Jeff Skoll Group. He will also continue to serve as an important advisor to the Skoll Global Threats Fund.
As the organization moves into its next phase, I am pleased to announce that Annie Maxwell, Chief Operating Officer over the last four years, will take over as President. With experience in government, international civil society, and the NGO sector, Annie brings to the role a nuanced understanding of the ways in which organizations work, as well as a capacity to build the networks that are critical for success against the global threats the world is facing. She has worked closely with Larry over the last four years, leading strategy refinement, building a world-class team, and creating an effective organization. She is the ideal person to help the Skoll Global Threats Fund evolve to the next stage. The Board of Directors very much looks forward to working with Annie going forward.
The Skoll Global Threats Fund is supporting the debut of a mobile app at the FIFA World Cup in Brazil to help track people’s health over the course of the event. This builds on the participatory surveillance work we’ve done around Flu Near You here in the U.S. The tool is now available for download free of charge at the Play Store (Android) and Apple Store (iPhone/iPad) in Portuguese, English and Spanish. The application is intended for both Brazilian and foreign visitors. The app has been developed by EpiTrack, a local partner in Brazil.
The risk of disease outbreak is always a concern at mass gatherings like the World Cup, in which millions of Brazilians and foreign tourists are in motion across 12 host cities. Via the app, fans report their daily health status (very good, good, ill or very ill). If a fan reports not being well, he/she is asked to indicate one or more symptoms from a list of ten, including fever, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting and headache. The fan also reports if he/she has had contact or knows someone with any of the symptoms. If many fans in the same region report similar symptoms, surveillance teams can investigate. The Ministry of Health, in conjunction with state and local governments, can get an indicator of potential issues and adopt measures to inform and protect the public.
In addition to contributing to public health, with the Healthy Cup app fans have access to information such as the location of public and private hospitals, and nearby pharmacies, with maps. The app also includes information on health care and disease prevention, with direct access to the Twitter feed from the Ministry of Health and links to a Travelers’ Health Portal containing practical tips and essential information to help domestic and foreign tourists to protect their health during the trip.
This is a pilot project to explore the value of this kind of real-time reporting. If it proves successful, it could serve as a model for similar mass gathering events, such as the Hajj to Mecca or the Olympics.
Wired UK has published an in-depth profile of our president, Larry Brilliant, and the pandemics work here at the Skoll Global Threats Fund. It’s a nice look both at Larry’s history in the public health arena, as well as our current efforts to head off pandemics. You can read it here.
We, together with the Hewlett Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, MacArthur Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund, are putting in motion a new effort to bring positive disruption to the arena of nuclear security. We five funders share common goals of increasing nuclear security and decreasing risks from nuclear weapons. We believe that, to achieve these goals, we need to drive more attention to the issue and surface ideas that can gain traction in today’s crowded policy space. This new initiative is aimed at exploring ways to bring new players and new ideas into the nuclear sphere. The nuclear security community today is effective, but new ideas and partners could help us become even more effective. Advances in sectors like data, mobile communications and technology are opening new avenues for tackling complex issues like climate, infectious disease and shared resource use. We believe cross-fertilization from these fields could lead to advances in the nuclear sphere as well. The group is looking to hire an initiative lead who’ll help design the initiative and be the driving force behind this pilot. You can read the position description and how to apply here.