Health leaders gather at WHA72, India votes, and Zipline soars past $1B

Supporters of Bharatiya Janata Party celebrate after the election results in New Delhi, India. Photo by: REUTERS / Anushree Fadnavis

The 72nd World Health Assembly, India’s development-focused election, and the future of medical delivery drones. This week in development:

The World Health Organization’s transformation agenda is marching ahead, with an approved budget and a new WHO Foundation. Plenty of hurdles still remain. While the agency’s health emergencies program has received praise for its speed and scale, it is plagued with issues of funding and staffing, particularly at the country level. At headquarters, diversity and gender balance continue to be an issue. An internal audit report discussed by member states on Thursday shared rising concerns of reported cases of misconduct and wrongdoing across the organization, including sexual harassment allegations. The organization will need to balance all these internal pressures with external demands, such as assisting countries in achieving universal health coverage, preparing for the next epidemic, or implementing strategies to tackle everything from polio to snakebites. To find out more, sign up for a Devex-hosted conference call on Friday with our journalists live from the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party are set to outperform projections as votes continue to be tallied in the world’s largest democracy. The massive election, which pitted the incumbent Modi against Rahul Gandhi, was held over the course of seven phases between April 11 and May 19. As Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Ghandi’s Congress Party battled for votes, they put particular emphasis on promising a wide array of social welfare and development programs, hoping to appeal to India’s 176 million people living below the global poverty line of $1.90 a day, Kunal Purohit reports for Devex from Mumbai. The Congress Party proposed spending 6% of India’s budget on education, up from the current 2.7%, and hung their biggest campaign promise on a cash transfer program for 50 million of India’s poorest families, while Modi’s first campaign rally began with an item-by-item account of the pro-poor initiatives he would deliver. While welfare promises have long been a feature of state-level elections, they have gained new prominence at the national level, according to analysts.

The medical drone delivery service Zipline is worth more than $1 billion, after securing $190 million in recent venture funding — including from The Rise Fund. Zipline, which is based in California, currently operates in Rwanda and Ghana, but has ambitions to expand across Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and the Americas, in hopes of serving 700 million people in the next five years. Zipline’s medical drones can carry 4 lbs. of freight, at up to 68 miles per hour, with a round trip range of close to 100 miles. The rapid rise — and apparent potential — of drones in global health programs has challenged development donors and implementers to figure out how best to engage with an unfamiliar technology in a complicated regulatory and procurement environment. The Gates Foundation and other donors have joined in an unmanned aerial systems coordinating body, which aims to provide a forum to share what is and is not working in the realm of unmanned aerial vehicles for health.

The Inter-American Development Bank is pioneering the use of open-source software for development. IDB’s Code for Development initiative allows governments and organizations to access products that others have developed for a wide range of potential development applications. “This is something that especially when you look in the context of countries where maybe the ability to spend a lot of money on licensing isn’t that high, open source becomes a very attractive and viable alternative to addressing your technology issues,” Kyle Strand, an IDB senior knowledge management specialist, tells Devex. The bank’s Github page, where its open-source products are available, has received 44,000 pageviews from nearly every country in the world.

About the author

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.