IBM Launches Global Public Health Effort

Big Blue has launched IBM Health Corps, a new global initiative to help communities address public health challenges.

IBM Health Corps

IBM has launched a global corporate citizenship program, IBM Health Corps, to help tackle public health challenges by working with health organizations around the world.

Big Blue plans to apply its strengths in analytics and cognitive computing to address health challenges globally, also deploying some of the company's best problem-solving teams.

"We believe the next paradigm shift in health is represented by the cognitive era," said Jen Crozier, vice president of Global Citizenship Initiatives with IBM's Corporate Citizenship & Corporate Affairs practice, in a post on the Citizen IBM blog. "IBM is at the forefront of this movement having launched Watson Health, a new business unit that leverages cognitive computing to solve complex health and medical challenges for patients, physicians, researchers, and health insurers across the globe. With cognitive computing, computers can analyze high volumes of data, understand complex questions posed in natural language, and propose evidence-based answers. These cognitive capabilities will help us break through longstanding barriers to improving populations' health."

Indeed, Crozier notes that many major advances in public health have been based on paradigm shifts in our understanding of either how disease spreads or is treated and how to keep populations healthy. Many of these advances have been made possible by collecting and analyzing data, she said. IBM's new initiative is focused on expanding those data collection and analysis capabilities.

"IBM has tremendous potential to improve the health of the most vulnerable populations across the globe," said Nancy Aossey, president and CEO of International Medical Corps, an IBM partner, in a statement. "Our partnership with IBM has strengthened our capacity to use data and analytics to increase community resilience to crises, and we look forward to continuing work with IBM to help underserved communities survive and thrive."

Big Blue is inviting civil and governmental organizations—including regional or national health departments, not-for-profits, clinics, and hospitals—to propose health projects for IBM to address. Applications may be submitted to IBM through April 20 by visiting IBM will review the proposals and announce up to five winners later this year. The company will then deploy global teams to the winning communities to address the problems and recommend solutions. The commercial value of each engagement is estimated at $500,000.

This global citizenship effort is nothing new for IBM. IBM Corporate Citizenship, which has been a leader in the development of innovative approaches to societal challenges, has an established history in health as well, Crozier said.

"Our World Community Grid virtual supercomputer has helped address health research challenges, from mapping cancer markers to searching for ways to treat viruses like Ebola," she said. "Through IBM's award winning Corporate Service Corps program, IBMers have worked pro bono to expand women's access to cancer screenings in Peru, and decrease mother-to-child HIV transmission rates in Ghana. And through the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge, IBMers focused on increasing the availability of nutritious, affordable food in Birmingham, Alabama and addressed efficiencies in emergency medical services in Memphis, Tennessee."

Through its Corporate Service Corps, which is often referred to as the private sector version of the Peace Corps, IBM has dispatched nearly 3,000 IBM employees from nearly 60 countries on more than 1,000 team projects across 38 countries over the last eight years. Moreover, these experiences signaled that even more needs to be done to address healthcare on a global level.

"This need, in concert with the introduction of cognitive computing for health improvement, has led IBM Citizenship to create a new community service program—IBM Health Corps," Crozier said. "IBM Health Corps is a global program designed to tackle health challenges. It will bring IBM’s best talent in healthcare consulting, data analytics, and cognitive computing in small teams to help public and civil sector health organizations address critical health disparities."