Yesterday Faina Linkov and I gave a presentation to CDC. It was a great experience. We overviewed the history and future of the Supercourse and Science at the library of Alexandria. It was a fun presentation. At the end of the talk someone asked a very weird question, but was really nice. He said that in the late 1980s he was a student in Pittsburgh and most the students thought that our work with the Internet and Prevention was the “Goofiest” project that had ever seen in public health. (this is not a great start to a question!!!). But then he said, but “WOW”, it is incredible how this has taken off. He asked for us to describe the trajectory of the project as to how it got so big. I thought I would describe the goofie early years.
When we started this effort, very few in health knew the term “internet”. At this time I had build a WHO Multinational project for childhood diabetes. It was one of the, if not the largest projects in chronic disease with over 155 centers in 70 countries. I was hopping around the world setting up registries for type 1 diabetes, and it was most fun. However it reached the point of absurdity where we had 17 registries in Argentina, 16 in Brazil, and 23 in China, yet still more wanted to join. We always run our projects on a skeleton budget. One of the problems in global project is communication as coordination demand constant communication. To send a paper to Jaakko Tuomilheto, the co-developer of our project express mail took 6 days and cost $65 dollars. I went to the computer center, and they told me about this new computer thing called the internet, and also it did not cost anything to send, and it could reach people world wide in seconds.
This was a time that almost no one in health were connected. There was an early stipulation that this would be for academics, no one the government (e.g. CDC, NIH, White House) was connected. However, as soon as I saw this strange new creature, I knew this was the future. I also know that it would transform our lives. I took a lot of my funding and shifted it to build Internet Global health. At the same time, Carlos Gamboa, from PAHO, Schunichi Akazawa from WHO, Francois Sauer from Digit, Eugene Boostrom from the World bank, Eric Marler from IBM and Tony Villesenor from NASA saw the light, and we began a series of meetings. I was fortunate to be initially funded by NIH, but the savior to all this was NASA as we are able to use the state of the art NASA technology, as well as the prestige of NASA. As soon as people saw we were working with NASA, our Star started to rise.
Our first step was to build a global health network. The idea was simple, for scientists to work together, they needed to be connected. We reached out to a multidisciplinary group of academic scientists world wide. Our focus was on disasters, was with earthquake, you need many different types of disciplines to rebuild, aund the Internet was ideal. We launched in 1994, and was one of the pioneer web pages. WE got all sorts of awards with the web page. The most remarkable award was being identified as one of the top 100 web sites in 1996, others who achieved the award that year included CIA, Library of Congress, White House. We were in some heady company. It is also amazing that huge internet organizations such as IBM, CDC, NIH, Google did not make the list, we did. Being recognized by PC Magazine, and NASA, moved us out of the Goofiest project ever to semi goofy.
At this time I stopped doing Diabetes, despite having build the largest WHO Project. I just could not set up the 18th registry in Russia.
Right after this my colleagues Eugene Shubnikov from Russia and Faina Linkov came to work with me, and then Internet and global health began to really take off. We never had the idea it would fail, as global health is information sharing, and we provided the first vehicle.
One of my best friends a few years ago asked me if what we were doing is global health. It most certainly is!!