The world’s most important organization for disease outbreak response and pandemic prevention, the Center for Diseases Control (CDC), has faced a lot of change to start 2018.

In January the CDC Director resigned and in February $800 million in budget cuts to the agency were announced.

The funding cuts seemed particularly harmful, focused on taking resources away from locally based CDC offices all over the world. I know health workers operating in hot zones and they are the most important line of defense against stopping a disease going global like Ebola did in 2014.

These public health workers are overtasked, underpaid and forced to make the most with limited resources. My reaction to the CDC news has been to double down on local first thinking to stopping outbreaks and consider the investment areas that will give us the best bang for the buck.

Based on what has worked (and failed) in digital disease detection projects, here are three top investment areas for lean innovation in outbreak response:

  1. Facilitated design workshops that bring together policy makers, public health workers and local technologists to identify gaps and possible solutions.
  2. Development of agreements between mobile operators, ministries of health, and local technology organizations on use of cell networks for outbreak prevention and response.
  3. Deployment of public participation disease reporting tools like hotlines, chatbots and mapping apps alongside promotion and training local trainers on use of tools.

While no one project will create a silver bullet that will stop outbreaks, we can avoid global emergencies when those who live and work in the frontlines of the hot zones are provided the support, skills and tools they need. Since diseases don’t care about budgets or borders, we can’t let down our guard and must look for innovative and cost effective ways to contain outbreaks and prevent pandemics.

If you are an organization working on digital disease detection and response, we’d love to hear about your work.  You can contact our team through our website,