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Pop!Tech: Acceleration and managing AIDS

Is it enough to come together and talk about important scientific, social and technical issues? That’s a question that Andrew Zolli, curator of Pop!Tech has been wrestling with for the past few years. Conferences like Pop!Tech have the possibility of sparking collaborations – in a new phase of Pop!Tech, which Zolli announced today, Pop!Tech will actively seek to launch and incubate important new social change projects that rise out from members of the community.

Zolli describes this as the third phase of Pop!Tech – the first was a launch phase, followed by a phase he’s led to professionalize and globalize the project. This new phase recognizes, celebrates and nurtures the projects that emerge from the collaborations Pop!Tech makes possible. He tells us about a collaboration between Neema Mgana and Cameron Sinclair which has led to the establishment of the Ipuli Medical Center in rural Tanzania, with the support of Pop!Tech partners. Other collaborations have included al album, Antibabel, produced by Pop!Tech performers Reggie Watts and Yungchen Lhamo.

Zolli wants to refocus Pop!Tech around a new project, the Pop!Tech accelerator. This is a project to support interdiscinplinary, high-impact, worldchanging projects that apply new tools and new approaches to create significant global change. The goal is to make sustainable projects, to make the data generated from these projects extremely transparent (released under open source licenses) and to produce large amounts of media to explain what those projects are doing. Good projects will leverage bottom-up approaches and engage the community, and will learn from advisors like Barefoot College’s Bunker Roy and Clara Miller of the Nonprofit Finance Fund.

The first project the Accelerator will fund is Project Masiluleke, launched by Zinhle Thabethe, an HIV counselor in KwaZulu Natal province who spoke at last year’s Pop!Tech. Working with Dr. Krista Dong, Frog Design and the University of Connecticut, they’re launching a project to adapt a piece of software called “Life Windows” so it can be used by mobile phone in KwaZulu Natal to support anti-retroviral drug use.

Thabethe and Dong take the stage to explain the complexities of fighting AIDS in KZN. There are six million people around the world, Dong tells us, who need ARV drugs immediately. 90% of that global figure is in Africa, and South Africa the epicentre of the epidemic. Life expectancy in South Africa has dropped from 62 to 44 years. In countries where ARVs aren’t available, like Swaziland, the life expectancy has dropped to thirty years. The World Health Organization’s approach to this program – “3 by 5” – treat 3 million people with ARVs by 2005 – has been a profound failure, treating only 10% of people.

There are real solutions. A single dose of nevirapine can prevent mother to child transmission of AIDS, but many women will resist the treatment so they don’t have to address their HIV status with the nurse who provides the medicine. As a result, 200 babies per day are born with AIDS in KwaZulu Natal alone – a total number that rivals the number of babies born with AIDS in a year. There’s a massive shortage of doctors and nurses that makes it very hard to bring new patients onto ARVs.

But Dong and Thabethe are fighting back. With strong support from funders, they’ve doubled the number of people in their area on ARVs. But they’ve realized they can’t scale the project up – they’ve got only 19 people, and they need some sort of amplifier to make it possible to reach a wider audience. That something may well be “Life Windows”, developed by Dr. Jeff Fisher and Paul Schuper.

Dr. Fisher is one of the founders of CHIP, the Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, an organization focused on healthy behavior change. The group focuses on marginalized groups who are at especially high risk of disease, working on projects around the world. They’re building interesting, interactive tools to assist caregivers to help people make behavioral changes that lead to better HIV treatment, especially ARV compliance.

One of the most interesting tools is Life Windows, a tool written by Paul Schuper, which uses an interactive video system to encourage, monitor and collect data on patients on ARV, tracking their compliance and teaching them about the intricacies of the disease. It’s a rich-media, video-driven tool that’s going to require substantial modification to be useful in an African context, but it’s clearly a powerful teaching and support tool for people living with AIDS.

Andrew announces another major Pop!Tech change. Next year, the meeting will include up to 50 Social Innovation fellows, individuals who are working on cool social change projects who will come to Pop!Tech both to be inspired and to share ideas. One third will be from outside of the US, one third will be under 35. Pop!Tech will provide some training, inlcuding storytelling and media training, and will match participants to mentors in the community. The new program, plus the fact that Pop!Tech is making its media open and accessible on the web, will be financed by a ticket price increase on people who attend the conference.

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4 thoughts on “Pop!Tech: Acceleration and managing AIDS”

  1. Pingback: Swaziland » Blog Archives » Stationery, free paper mill of email depapeteryfo

  2. Pingback: El Oso » Archive » PopTech Innovation Fellows: From Conversation to Social Change

  3. After reading Kentaro Toyama’s recent article in The Atlantic about Technology is not the Answer to many international development challenges (at least in the absence of “right intent and capacity” in the people involved), I was reminded of Zinny and Krista’s fabulously inspiring presentation at PopTech 2007, and their photos of broken kiosks and other examples of well-intentioned technology from wealthy nations failing to deliver results because it wasn’t really designed with an understanding of the intended users’ context.

    The presentation that immediately followed of the “rich-media, video-driven” Life Windows – which seemed to perfectly fit the very description of well-intentioned but failed technology – was one of the most significant instances of cognitive dissonance I’ve experienced at a conference (even now I shudder to remember it), and was made all the more striking by the PopTech context, which was [otherwise] all about connections vs. disconnects.

    Anyhow, I can’t find any trace of Zinny and Krista’s talk on the PopTech site … and am wondering whether that is an intentional omission or an unintentional oversight. In any case, I was hoping to find corroboration of my memory here on this post, but perhaps I am misremembering [aspects of] the event.

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