Introducing This Year’s Speakers

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to the full lineup of thought-leaders who will take the stage this fall at TEDMED 2018. Our first group, announced below, features speakers who will explore a wide range of issues impacting humanity’s health. You can learn more about the Speakers and their fascinating work at

We’ll be sharing much more in the coming weeks, including this year’s session themes, so be sure to stay tuned. You won’t want to miss this year’s event—register today!

Q&A with Camila Ventura, Zika Family Caregiver

Camila Ventura is a Brazilian retina specialist who is dedicated to understanding and fighting Congenital Zika syndrome (CZS). Camila’s work with Zika began during the 2015 outbreak in Brazil, when she first reported the ocular findings of three babies affected by the virus during pregnancy. We caught up with Camila to find out more about her past and current efforts to help babies and families affected by CZS. Camila spoke at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch her Talk here.

TEDMED: There has been considerable improvement in our understanding and treatment of Congenital Zika syndrome since the outbreak, especially thanks to the hard work of teams like yours. What are the biggest challenges communities affected by Zika face today?

Camila Ventura: We have certainly made progress not only in understanding the pathophysiology of this new disease and developing vaccines and tests to diagnose the Zika infection, but also learning how to care for children with Congenital Zika syndrome. As I mention in my Talk, it is impossible to care for a child with CZS without an engaged and interactive multidisciplinary team. We have learned that communication between different professionals is essential to plan interventions and potentialize therapies. We have also learned that CZS has a broad spectrum and that there is not a “one recipe” treatment for these children. In other words, treatment cannot be generalized.

We still face many challenges indeed. Our biggest challenge nowadays is getting these families to reach our rehab center at the Altino Ventura Foundation located in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state. Most of the children are instructed to come weekly for therapies, but because many live in the countryside, dropouts are one of our biggest challenges.

Another important concern is the late complications that some of the children develop. We had at least 15 children who developed hydrocephaly and required a shunt. Despite the fact that the shunt surgery normalized the brain pressure, some of them progressed with vision loss. We also have children with different levels of dysphagia (some requiring gastrostomy). The biggest concern with regard to dysphagia is the risk of aspirating food into the lungs and developing pneumonia. We had 5 cases that died from pneumonia. The last, but not less important, challenge is the uncontrolled and severe seizures that some children present. Seizures bring a lot of concern not only to doctors, but also to families that many times feel impotent and helpless. However, despite all the complications and challenges we are facing, we are very proud of our work with these kids and their families. We now have three of them walking!

TM: What projects and research have you been involved in since you spoke at TEDMED 2017?

CV: Since TEDMED, we received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant and started a collaborative research study with the RTI International, a well-known and respected research non-profit organization. The main goal of this study is to follow 200 children with congenital Zika syndrome and their families for a period of 5 years. By assessing each child, we are trying to understand important outcomes such as neurodevelopment (motor skills and cognition), functional skills (activity of daily living, feeding, and sleeping), social and language skills, temperament, and behavior. Another aim of this study is to understand how families have coped with this new challenge and adapted to disability by assessing stress level, family dynamics, and social support. We hope that this study will enable us to provide an optimized habilitation treatment once we identify specific delays in the child’s development and at the same time, provide caregivers with psychological and social support by understanding their specific needs.

P.S.: I gave an interview at RetinaLink after TEDMED and the NIH Grant.

TM: Your team is composed of a multidisciplinary group of specialists, each skilled at addressing one of the many systems affected in babies with Congenital Zika syndrome. What were some of the challenges in bringing doctors of different backgrounds together? Were there any surprising or unexpected outcomes that came as a result of the collaboration?

CV: To answer your question, I need to explain about our history. The Altino Ventura Foundation is a non-profit organization that started in 1986 as an eye center for the low-income population. In 2004, we opened our Rehabilitation Center that used to be run in a small rented house and we were only accredited to perform visual and motor rehabilitations. However, in 2014, we finally moved to a 3-story building owned by us, and that was when we became fully accredited to rehabilitate patients with multiple disabilities in all four domains (visual, hearing, motor, and intellectual).

By then, we already had the different physicians and therapists working at the same place working for the same goals. Also, at the FAV we have always valued teamwork and interaction between our professionals. However, with the advent of Zika, the interaction was intensified, which brought more unity to our work. Thanks to this strong connection, we have been able to see how it has positively affected our children’s outcomes.

Another important aspect that Zika brought to our institution was the possibility of developing our own protocols for Zika. Since we have the oldest patients with Zika, we did not get to learn from others how to treat our patients. Zika empowered us to develop our own protocols that are used today to treat our children. The visual impairment assessment protocol, for example, was developed by our team and published in the Journal of the American Association of Pediatrics (JAAPOS) in 2016 with the intent of sharing with the world what we have learned so far about the visual aspect of CZS. In addition, the FAV has been a hive for other professionals from other states in Brazil and from the US to visit and to be trained for CZS habilitation treatment.

TM: You work closely with the families of babies affected by Congenital Zika syndrome, and you mention in your Talk that you consider mothers and caregivers to be your best allies in the treatment of their children. When a family is empowered to be involved in treatment, what sorts of positive results do you see?

CV: I truly believe that families make a difference in the child’s outcome not only for children with Zika, but for every child that needs close assistance. In 2016, we realized just how slow the response to our early intervention therapy was—children were coming once every week to the FAV Rehab Center, and we had to think of different strategies since we could not provide as many assessments as we would have liked due to Brazil’s economic and financial situation. We basically had to work with what he had. Despite teaching mothers/caregivers how to stimulate their child at home, we knew they weren’t able to purchase the toys or equipment that were necessary to do so. We then came up with the idea of handcrafting a multi-sensory kit with the mothers/caregivers. They have been using the multi-sensory kit since then and we have filmed a tutorial of how to use the kit and uploaded the series to YouTube so other families can learn and benefit from this idea as well. Here are our tutorials divided into parts 1, 2, and 3. We also provided mothers/caregivers with constant workshops to empower them because we know now that committed parents/caregivers can change a child’s overall outcome.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

CV: Absolutely surreal! It was the most thrilling, exciting, scary, nerve-wracking, and challenging experience I ever lived. Having to memorize my 15-minute talk in English and deliver it with emotion with all the tension that was going on inside me was not easy. But after succeeding and looking back at the entire preparation process, I can only thank the amazing professionals I got the chance to work with since day one. I appreciate the sweetness and patience of Lucy Barry, the great suggestions from the straight-to-the-point Marcus Webb, and the amazing support I received from Shirley Bergin. I could not ask for a better team! And if I can add, now that I have stepped in the TEDMED shoes, I value even more each and every speaker that gets on stage to share their personal and/or professional experience – we all have walked an extra mile! Thank you TEDMED for such an amazing experience!

Q&A with Chera Kowalski of the Free Library of Philadelphia

In her 2017 TEDMED Talk, Chera Kowalski shared what it was like to work at the McPherson Square Library, situated in Philadelphia’s “Needle Park,” where she and other staff members played the dual roles of librarian and lifesaver in a community stricken by the opioid crisis. We talked with Chera to learn more about her perspective and her courageous work.

TEDMED: Why did you want to become a librarian? Have those reasons evolved over the years?

Chera Kowalski: In the beginning, I was drawn to the research aspect of librarianship because I was constantly doing research as an undergrad. However, I ended up volunteering with the Free Library because I didn’t want to close myself off from exploring the public librarianship side of the field. As I saw more and more of what a public library is, I wanted to stay because I realized I wanted to work with the public, with the community.

Also, as I have reflected more on my career choice, I realized growing up my mother was always helping people out even when in the midst of her own hardships. She was always connecting people to resources. In the end, I think it was witnessing that which really directed me towards public librarianship. I may not have realized it when I first started on my path to becoming a librarian, but today I definitely do.

TM: Most people wouldn’t think of a public library as being a critical local resource in the opioid epidemic, but Philadelphia’s McPherson Square branch and other libraries across the country are serving as just that. Are there other types of community resources that you think have undiscovered or underused potential in terms of being able to meet the needs of their communities?

CK: Yes, of course there are other types of community resources that have undiscovered or underused potential in meeting needs of their communities. It is important to always explore the landscape of your community because it is more likely than not there are many resources sitting undiscovered or underused. As a public librarian, I am always seeking out resources of all kinds because we can’t offer everything the community needs, but we can connect the community to other resources supporting the particular need. And many public libraries, including the Free Library of Philadelphia, also collaborate and partner with other organizations as well to ensure the needs and wants of the community are being met.

TM: Do you work with other libraries around the country who are facing similar challenges within their communities?

CK: Since the story of our efforts at McPherson Square hit the media, other libraries across the country have reached out to us to ask  how to get their library administration and/or the community to understand the need for overdose reversal training, how to engage the community around the topic of the opioid and overdose epidemic, and so on. I have presented on panels with other public library professionals to educate and engage more people in our field on the issue because the opioid epidemic is affecting communities of all kinds throughout the country and the library needs to be one of the resources communities can turn to for support.

TM: What would you say to critics and skeptics who might say things such as: providing the overdose-reversing drug naloxone at public libraries enables opioid users, or that you shouldn’t administer it in front of children?

CK: I keep saying it is a tool, a skill right up there with CPR. The thing that holds people back from recognizing this, to me, is stigma, misinformation, disinformation. This is why I have made the choice to discuss not just what we do at McPherson Square Library, but also share my personal story. Sometimes it is easier for people to connect to a story than to facts, and the personal story sometimes has the potential to open the doors to those facts and change minds.

At McPherson, the library and the park are always full of kids, and so when people unfortunately overdose in the library or just outside, kids are seeing this, experiencing this trauma, and we did not want kids or anyone to see someone die, especially when there is something available to save lives. The kids and the residents of Kensington witness overdoses constantly because Kensington is the epicenter of Philadelphia’s epidemic. They are experiencing this trauma over and over again, and if naloxone wasn’t available many more deaths would be the result.

TM: What do you think the future of the opioid crisis looks like, and as someone working in the midst of it, do you see an end in sight?

CK: Even though progress is being made, it is not nearly enough, soon enough. The issue is so complex, so complicated, so massive, constantly changing, it’s daunting. We are so behind on what needs to be done and what’s holding us back is, once more, the stigma, the misinformation, the disinformation. There is so much being done on the ground level, the frontlines, but bureaucracy, the concern for profit, the concern for keeping a political seat, just the refusal to educate one’s self are slowing down the critical parts of policy change, of equitable access to treatment, and more. But with all that said, I do have hope because I know there a lot of people willing to put in the effort, the exhaustion, the hard work to change the course of this crisis.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

CK: TEDMED was definitely not my usual scene, but I connected to it because everyone there wants to solve problems, challenges, and do so collaboratively. It was such a positive, encouraging experience, I felt reenergized and motivated. The experience also pushed me to reflect on where I want my professional and personal path to lead, which is why I ended up moving into a new position with the Free Library of Philadelphia as the Assistant to the Chief of Staff. It was a heartbreaking, difficult decision, but in the end I had to see the bigger picture. I am still connected to McPherson Square Library and the Kensington community. I visit frequently and I am still finding professional and personal ways to continue to support the library branch and the community.

The limits of scientific certainty and the need for positive change

Michael Hendryx is a pioneering research investigator focused on the impacts of uneven environmental exposures faced by socioeconomically disadvantaged groups. In 2006, Michael started a research program on public health disparities for people in Appalachia who live in proximity to coal mining, with a focus on mountaintop removal. This research has shown that people who live close to mountaintop removal are at increased risk for a wide set of health problems including respiratory illness, cardiovascular disease, birth defects, cancer, and others. Michael spoke at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch his Talk here.

I have committed the last 12 years of my professional life to conducting research on public health conditions in Appalachian coal mining communities. I have focused in particular on a highly destructive form of surface coal mining called Mountaintop Removal. As I described in my TEDMED talk, mountaintop removal involves the heavy use of explosives to reach the buried coal, wholesale destruction of forests and streams, and production of water and air pollution over a large footprint in central Appalachia that is home to over a million people.

MTR site above a town. (Source: Paul Corbit-Brown)

As I write this blog, I am surprised to see these words on the screen: Appalachian coal mining has become a central part of my research career. I am not from Appalachia. I was born in Illinois and have spent most of my life in the Midwest and West. I knew very little about coal mining or its environmental, ecological, economic and public health harms before taking a faculty position at West Virginia University in 2006. But as I learned about the issue, and began to examine it from a public health perspective, I gradually became convinced that this mining practice was truly harmful to the health of nearby community residents.

In retrospect it may seem obvious that this is so, but the work faced two constraints: the impossibility of conducting the “perfect” study to establish definitive cause between mining and public health, and the doubt and resistance, not only from politicians and the industry (predictable) but from research colleagues who were sure (without actually studying the issue) that the health problems must be due to the usual suspects of smoking, obesity and poverty that plague mining-dependent communities. Certainly blowing up mountains over people’s heads couldn’t harm their health! Could it?

As I contemplated my TEDMED talk and considered the message I wanted to offer, I realized that I wanted to raise awareness about mountaintop removal throughout the TEDMED community, but I also wanted to say something to the larger scientific community that was not dependent on a single environmental issue, but that perhaps could aspire to a larger resonance. Initially, I wasn’t sure myself what this would be, but I knew it was something about the tension between science and advocacy, which morphed into a statement about the limits of science in the face of an ethical imperative. From someone like me who prides himself on the power of empirical evidence, this is quite a statement about scientific limits!

It’s a well-known idea in environmental science: the precautionary principle. If there is evidence that health is impaired, and if there is evidence of environmental risk that may reasonably contribute to that impairment, then appropriate action is necessary to reduce the risk even if all causal links are not understood.

Since 2006 I, with many co-authors, have published more than 30 research papers in academic journals that document environmental and public health conditions in mining communities. For me the answer is undeniable, despite the lack of the perfect causal study: mountaintop removal mining is harmful to public health. It should be discontinued to protect human health. I think we have reached the point where further studies are frankly unnecessary, except to keep the issue in the public eye. Additional studies carry the risk of doing a disservice to the people who live in these communities, as we can study the issue to death without ever convincing the politicians and industrialists who are motivated and rewarded by doubt. As I said in my talk, “There can always be doubt, if doubt is what you seek.”

Instead of continuing to document problems, it is past time to move to solutions. It is a fact that the physical reserves of recoverable coal in Appalachia are in sharp decline. It is a fact that the world is moving away from coal to other energy sources. Coal mining as an economic force in Appalachia is subsiding. This has nothing to do with a so-called ‘war on coal.’ It is a consequence of geological and economic reality.

The solutions, in my view, lie in the power, imagination and energy of the people of Appalachia. I have encountered many examples of efforts underway to promote a transition to a strong and sustainable economy for the region as coal approaches its death rattle. I anticipate that these incipient efforts will eventually lead the way to greater opportunity and health for the region. Vested political and economic interests still refuse to acknowledge or support the change, but eventually they will have no choice.

I found a narrative and that narrative became a song


Zoë Keating is a cellist and composer who put her music career on hold when her husband Jeff was diagnosed with stage IV non-smokers lung cancer. After Jeff passed away, it took Zoë time to start creating music again, but when she did, it became her lifeline. Zoë spoke about her experiences at TEDMED 2017, and you can watch her Talk, and hear her play the song “Possible,” here.

Four years ago my world exploded and disintegrated: my husband Jeff was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he died 8 months later and I became an only parent.

I spent a long time in a shell-shocked-limbo that I can barely remember (if I was weird to you during that time, I apologize!) and then I feel like I’ve been searching for the blown apart fragments of my life and trying to put them back together with tape but there are huge pieces missing and…what is the shape supposed to be again? I don’t know yet. It’s a process. I’m a process.

For the most part, I’ve been ok with that. But yeah, sometimes there is nagging voice in my head impatient for me to “bounce back”, “be resilient”, “overcome”, etc etc etc. It berates me to “get on with it”—whatever “it” is—so that then I can do the normal things that a successful artist does, like release a new album, something that seemed incredibly daunting in my new life.

So last year the folks at TEDMED invited me to speak. I thought about all the things I wanted to talk about. I could talk about the patient experience of health care. Or maybe I could talk about how I used to suffer from paralyzing stage fright until I discovered live looping—by recording short phrases of the cello and playing on top of them, I made a virtual cello orchestra to keep me company onstage and then I wasn’t afraid. I didn’t want to talk publicly about Jeff’s illness and death and what came after. I didn’t want to be defined by a story that was raw and painful and still bleeding.

I tried to write my talk about something else but as much as I didn’t want to be defined by loss, the biggest thing in my life was the gaping wound where my husband was. It would be insincere for me to give a talk about anything else.

So I started to write. I wrote iteratively in bits and pieces and as I wrote, a clearing appeared, and there was new music in it. As what I wanted to say crystalized into words, so did the music. I ended up making a talk and a song in parallel. In distilling my story, I found a narrative and that narrative became a song.

The act of finishing a single song made it seem possible for me to make another one, which I did after I gave the talk. And then I made another…

Zoë Keating, by Chase Jarvis

One theme running through all my music is the feeling of getting outside of things to get a bigger vista. I’m often looking for the musical equivalent of a bird’s eye view. It has been hard to get that kind of perspective of my life for the last few years. And frankly, it’s hard to imagine making something big, like an album, when you’ve lost your confidence, which I certainly had.

After I gave my talk, I could see that this process of looking at my personal story from afar, having an insight and then iterating on it, was very similar to how I make music. When I combine loops of cello together the resulting sounds and textures hint at new musical patterns to explore. When I wrote about what happened, thought about what I’d written and then refined it, the very process of doing that suggested new ways for me to think about it.

If I was to give another talk today, I might explore an idea I heard about during a subsequent performance that I had with Jad Abumrad, the founder and co-host of “Radiolab”. I was making live music for a talk he gave on the origins of the show in which he mentioned the idea of the “adjacent possible”, a term coined by the theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman.

Bear with me for a second. Roughly, Kauffman’s theory as I understand it is that biological systems are able to transform into complex systems through incremental changes. Life didn’t start out complicated with something like a flying squirrel. First there were a bunch of carbon atoms, then those atoms combined to make molecules, then proteins, and then proteins made cells possible. Each step along the way created the possibility for the next step to occur, the adjacent possible. Kauffman’s idea has since been applied to social sciences, technology and creativity, describing how new insights can be generated by combining already existing ideas. The adjacent possible are the things made possible by what you are doing right now.

So for me, maybe the act of distilling my story at TEDMED created an adjacent possible for me, one where I’m able to make music again.

Here’s me talking about how music helped me think about life, love and loss, followed by a live performance of a new song called “Possible”. I’ll be releasing the studio version as part of a three-song EP on June 1.

Thank you, TEDMED.

Q&A with Agnes Binagwaho, Rwanda’s Former Minister of Health

In her 2017 TEDMED Talk, Rwanda’s former Minister of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, shed light on the experience of rebuilding Rwanda’s health system after the devastating 1994 genocide. We talked with Agnes to learn more about her past efforts and to find out what she’s working on today.

TEDMED: Can you describe some of the biggest challenges you faced as you began work to rebuild Rwanda’s health system? How did you overcome them?

Agnes Binagwaho: The biggest challenge I faced was figuring out how to do the most good and save the most lives with the extremely limited resources and infrastructure that existed, and beyond that, figuring out how to contribute to the growth of a system that would deliver the quality care I wanted for all children of Rwanda. Rwanda’s health sector was destroyed and there was a strong need for not just health professionals, but committed health fighters. We overcame these challenges by uniting as a country to determine the best way forward while still remaining true to our vision. We knew that if anyone was going to stand up for us, it was going to have to be us. We took that national commitment and leveraged it into a real transformation, a transformation in which our systems and our laws are mandated to serve the most vulnerable and to leave no one out.

TM: Have you seen Rwanda’s health system successes be leveraged in other countries? Have there been other unexpected outcomes that have emerged as a result of your work?

AB: In many places, similar interventions, policies, and practices are being introduced as the ones we introduced in Rwanda. Particularly around how, as a country, we are able to provide equitable, quality health care to all, and how to use ICT [Information and Communication Technology] in the management of the health system. Our health professionals often advise other national health sectors or organizations on the lessons learned in Rwanda and how they can be applied elsewhere. We are part of a global fight to make a healthier future and we are learning from one another so that we will all reach the SDGs.

TM: You are the Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity, which is unlike any other university we know. What is global health equity, and how do you teach it?

AB: At the University of Global Health Equity, our vision is a world where every individual – no matter who they are or where they live – can lead a healthy and productive life. We know that this vision is ambitious and that we will face a lot of challenges in its pursuit. We teach the values of accompaniment, compassion, commitment, and integrity to ensure a preferential option for the poor in health care. Our students are trained to connect with the communities most in need and to break down the barriers between academia and medicine and cities and rural or impoverished settings. They are trained to advocate for patients and to look beyond the traditional margins of health care and integrate a holistic view of health into practice and policymaking. At UGHE, we empower global health professionals to be leaders and managers and to use these tools to solve problems for those most in need, and to find lasting and inclusive solutions to the greatest global health challenges today.

Dr. Agnes Binagwaho leads a group discussion during the University of Global Health Equity’s Global Health Delivery Leadership Program, a certificate course conducted in partnership with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Photo by Zacharias Abubeker for UGHE.

TM: What advice would you give young emerging leaders interested in politics and health reform?

AB: I would tell any young leader interested in this field to join us without hesitation, we need young and energetic thinkers to take up the fight for global health equity and to bring new ideas and innovative solutions to the health challenges of today and tomorrow. I would tell them to follow their dreams and to find what motivates them for public good. We need global health fighters that are passionate and outspoken advocates for those most in need. The field of global health is vast and multidisciplinary, and everyone has a role to play in ensuring access to quality health care for all. There is so much to do.

TM: What was the TEDMED experience like for you?

AB: The experience of the TEDMED talk was great; the scientific content was fantastic and spanned a variety of topics. I loved it; and I learned a lot. It was well organized and I felt really welcome in the community. It was also an occasion for networking with people with diverse experiences, but with the same goals, passions, and vision for a healthier future. I am grateful for the opportunity to come together with such great thinkers and advocates.

Ending the overdose crisis will not happen through prohibition

Written and submitted by Mark Tyndall.

Epidemiologist, physician and public health expert Mark Tyndall has dedicated his career to studying HIV, poverty, and drug use in multiple places around the world, starting with Nairobi, and now in Vancouver. Mark spoke on the TEDMED Stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.

We are now well into year three of an opioid overdose epidemic in North America. Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional deaths for adults between 20 and 50 years old, far out-stripping automobile crashes, suicides and homicides. In many cities, first responders now spend the majority of their time racing to the next overdose and filling emergency departments with overdose victims. While the loss of life is tragic beyond words, the impacts of this crisis go far beyond the individual and will leave families forever broken, communities torn apart and children with no parents.

Yet despite the ongoing crisis, we find ourselves stuck debating the most mundane issues and doubling down on the very policies that have created all this misery in the first place. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we cling to the belief that any programs designed to reduce the risk of overdose and make drug use less hazardous will somehow encourage people to keep using drugs, dissuade people from entering addiction treatment, make our neighbourhoods more dangerous, and entice our youth to launch into a career of drug use. Common-sense, evidence-based harm reduction interventions like needle distribution programs, supervised injection sites, naloxone distribution, methadone and buprenorphine substitution therapy, low-barrier supportive housing, and accessible residential addiction care are shot down as unacceptable, disruptive, risky and too expensive.

Apparently devoid of any new ideas, we fall back to our worst tendencies – demonizing drugs and the people who use them. The moral panic that is perpetuated in the media gives us cover to continue to stigmatize people who are using drugs and commit them to ever harsher criminal sanctions that all but ensure they can never recover. This is all based on some sort of magical thinking. Do we really believe that if only we punished and isolated people more that they would stop using drugs? Do we really think that taking society’s most vulnerable people and cycling them through the prison system is part of a recovery program? Do we really think that busting drug dealers reduces drug use?

It is clear that the upstream drivers of addiction – the poverty, the hopelessness, the trauma, the isolation, the violence, the physical pain and the mental illness – must be addressed. More people are in pain, more people are being left behind, and more people are using drugs to self-medicate. In such an environment, it is in everyone’s best interest to make drug use as safe as possible while we invest in the myriad of societal challenges that are driving demand. We need a whole different approach to drug use and addiction that recognizes that people will continue to use drugs as long as they feel that drugs are their best option. Pushing people with drug addiction to the margins of society by continuing to enforce drug policies based on crime and punishment just doesn’t make sense.

September 19, 2016, Vancouver, B.C. —Urban artist Smokey Devil’s work is prominent in the alleys of Gastown and the Downtown Eastside, most of them pleading with locals to take care of themselves in the wake of Fentanyl overdoses. Gordon McIntyre / PNG [PNG Merlin Archive]
There is no indication that the overdose epidemic will go away anytime soon. While many thousands of people have already died, it is clear that there are many more at risk. In many communities the street supply of opioids, which was traditionally dominated by diverted prescription opioids and imported heroin has been largely replaced by potent synthetic opioids – mainly fentanyl. In fact, in many places the chance of dying of an overdose today has increased from a year ago due to the worsening toxicity of the supply.

We urgently need a comprehensive approach to the overdose crisis that is built on reducing the upstream drivers of drug addiction while promoting proven harm reduction initiatives that reduce the adverse health effects of drug use, provide a crucial point of connection, and keep people alive. This will require a dramatic shift in the way we treat people who use drugs and removal of the perverse criminal sanctions that continue to ruin lives and perpetuate the overdose crisis.

To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected: Why U.S. Should Lead on Global Health

Written and submitted by Senator William Frist, M.D.

Former Senator Bill Frist is a nationally acclaimed heart and lung transplant surgeon, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader, and chairman of the Distinguished Executives Council of the healthcare firm Cressey & Company. Bill spoke on the TEDMED Stage in 2017, and you can watch his talk here.

A life-changing story has been missed by the media and the general public. But it will be highlighted in the history books in future generations.

The story is that for less than 1% of our federal budget, the United States since 1990 has led the world in reducing by half those living in extreme poverty and halving the number of deaths of those suffering from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Moreover, we have cut in half the number of deaths of children under 5 through advancing vaccinations worldwide. And we have halved the number of deaths due to maternal mortality by training skilled birthing attendants and providing contraceptives for women. Our nation has forged the path with funding and infrastructure to tackle global disease, preventable deaths, and treatable illnesses to save the lives of millions.

Our legacy of global leadership was cemented in 2003 with the passage of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which I helped shepherd through Congress as Senate Majority Leader. PEPFAR provided an astounding $15 billion to fight AIDS across Africa and the developing world — more than any country or any President has ever committed to fight a single disease. Today, over 13 million people in developing nations receive life-saving antiretroviral treatment, compared to only 50,000 in sub-Saharan Africa when the program began.

Less well known but perhaps even more remarkably, PEPFAR has served as a powerful “currency for peace.” Countries that received PEPFAR assistance saw reduced political instability and violence, improved rule of law, increased economic output per worker, and improved views of the U.S., compared to similar non-PEPFAR regional countries. Our investment went beyond saving lives: it put nations on the track to peace and prosperity while improving America’s own national security and global standing.

Last year, the Trump Administration seemed to ignore decades of progress and shortsightedly recommended a draconian cut of more than 30% to our U.S. foreign assistance. Hope Through Healing Hands, a global health organization I founded 14 years ago, stood on the frontlines of advocacy with public health advocates, faith leaders, academic researchers, nonprofit leaders, and others who called on Congress to restore full funding for the international affairs budget. We sent letters with over 150 signatories, made phone calls, and flew leaders to Washington to share this message with members of Congress. We reminded elected officials of the critical importance of uplifting the world’s most vulnerable populations.

Thankfully, bipartisan champions in Congress, including Senators Graham, Boozman, Collins, and Murkowski to name a few, recognized the vital impact of these global health programs and responded with a 4% increase in overall funding. But a year later, those funds are once again under attack.

The Trump Administration has again recommended a cut this year of 30% to foreign assistance. We will be diligent in our advocacy, and steadfast in our support to continue the momentum of leadership in saving lives and ending extreme poverty in the midst of famine, conflict, and population growth. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because history will judge us on whether the U.S. maintained global leadership in global health and stayed the course… or relented to a national “Me First” philosophy.

Congress and the President just enacted a budget that increases funding for our military. Now let’s match that force of arms with the greatest strength the world has ever seen when it comes to medical mercy. Let’s practice the lesson of peace through healing. Let’s remember that rogue regimes and hateful fanatics are not the only threats to global peace.

Disease is a threat to peace. Pandemics are a threat to peace. Illness and hopelessness are threats to peace. And so, in a world facing all of these threats, now is precisely the wrong time to cut back on our modest funding for global health. To be blunt, you don’t go to war with someone who has just saved the life of your child.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In our time, we’ve learned that a threat to health anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere.

We can bring more peace to the world and to ourselves, not only by deterrence – but also by compassion, by the power of healing hands, and by medicine as a currency for peace.

Announcing TEDMED’s 2018 Research Scholars

Preparing the TEDMED Stage Program is a year-long process, which begins the moment the first Speaker nominations come in. Each submission requires thorough research and careful consideration for how it might fit into the larger program. For help identifying the individuals and topics that will take the stage at our annual TEDMED event, we turn to the TEDMED Community—specifically our Editorial Advisory Board Members and Research Scholars—for their insight and expertise.

As a first step in the process, we rely on our Editorial Advisory Board members to suggest timely topics and themes that should be featured on stage and to provide their feedback on which Speaker nominations most embody the important work these topics and themes represent. Having completed four Editorial Advisory Board meetings and countless discussions following each meeting, the 2018 Stage Program curation process is well underway. While there is still work to do, we’re excited about how the program is shaping up.

Now comes the point in the process where we begin vetting the science and potential impact of each nomination. This is where TEDMED’s Research Scholars play a crucial role. The Research Scholars, a carefully selected group of passionate and objective individuals whose expertise spans the biomedical, public health, and emerging technology spectrums, help us to properly evaluate each nomination.

This year, we have selected 45 Research Scholars with specialties ranging from neuroscience to bioethics, digital health to nursing, and oncology to public health. We’re confident that the 2018 Research Scholars have the diverse backgrounds and breadth of knowledge that will allow us to take a deep dive into the complexities of this year’s Speaker nominations and to evaluate their suitability for this year’s program.

Our 2018 Research Scholars represent organizations and institutions including the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins University, the YMCA of the USA, Skoll Global Threats Fund, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai’s Loeb Center for Alzheimer’s Disease, GE Healthcare, the The University of Pittsburgh, the American Medical Association, and more.

Additionally, we’re excited to announce that we’re trying something new this year. We’ve partnered with Massive, a digital science media publication that brings together scientists and the science-curious public, and tapped into their pool of first-rate researchers to help us evaluate this year’s nominations. The TEDMED-Massive Scholars are members of TEDMED’s 2018 Research Scholars Program, and they are denoted by an asterisk in the list below. We’re excited about the TEDMED-Massive partnership, and we’re looking forward to sharing more over the coming months about how we’ll work together.

We are honored to announce this year’s TEDMED Research Scholars, and we thank them for their invaluable contributions.

Akash Chandawarkar, MD
Plastic Surgery, Medical Technology Innovation

*Anastasia Gorelova, PhD Candidate
Molecular Pharmacology, Cardiovascular Biology

Anna Pimenova, PhD
Neuroscience, Neurodegeneration

*Aparna Shah, PhD
Neuroscience, Pharmacology, Psychiatric Disorders

Beth Ann Swan, PhD, CRNP, FAAN
Healthy Communities, Health Care Delivery

Beth Taylor Mack, PhD
Health and Wellness Innovation

Boluwaji Ogunyemi, MD
Epidemiology, Dermatology, Medical Humanities, Health Advocacy

Bryon Petersen, PhD
Bioengineering, Stem Cell Biology

Camilla Engblom, PhD
Cancer Immunology

Christina Schweitzer, MPhil (Cantab), BSc, MD student
Medical Education

*Dan Samorodnitsky, PhD
Molecular Biology

Daniel Bu, BA, MD/MSCR Candidate
Health Care Delivery, Science and Technology

Danny Jomaa, MSc Candidate
Cancer Biology, Neuroscience

Diana Chen, MA, MD/MBA Candidate
Global Health, Healthcare Delivery, Marketing

Dilip Thomas, PhD
Tissue Engineering, Regenerative Medicine

Elisa L Priest, DrPH
Healthcare Quality, Epidemiology, Population Health

Elizabeth Rochin, PhD, RN, NE-BC
Maternal Health, Population Health, Patient Engagement

Emal Lesha, MD Candidate
Bioengineering, Biotechnology, Health Care

Emilie Grasset, PhD

*Gabriela Serrato Marks, PhD Candidate
Climate Change, Science Communication

Gyan Kapur
Healthcare Technology, Genomics

*Irene Park, MS
Genetics, Science Communication

Jeffrey L. Blackman, MBA
Corporate Innovation, Entrepreneurship

Jennifer Olsen, DrPH
Public Health, Data Utilization

*Josh Peters, PhD Candidate
Quantitative Biology, Genomics, Infectious Disease

Joshua Brown, PharmD, PhD
Health Economics and Outcomes Research

Kaylynn Purdy, H BHSc, MD Candidate
Medical Education, Health Advocacy, Neuroscience

Kelly Jamieson Thomas, PhD
Cancer Prevention, Wellness Education

*Laetitia Meyrueix, PhD Candidate
Nutrition, Epigenetics, Public Health

Maria Papageorgiou, MSc, MBA
Market Access, HTA, Health Economics, Marketing

Meg Barron, MBA
Digital Health, Healthcare Innovation

*Melanie Silvis, PhD Candidate
Microbiology, Genetics, Genome Engineering, Antibiotic Discovery

Nicole Stone, PhD
Cardiac Reprogramming, Epigenomics

Paul Lindberg, JD
Public Health, Healthy Communities

Pierre Elias, MD
Cardiology, Data Science

Pramod Pinnamaneni, MD 
Oncology, Healthcare Innovation, Cost and Utilization

Raja R Narayan, MD MPH 
General Surgery, Medical Device Innovation

Regina Wysocki, MS, RN-BC
Nursing Informatics, Healthcare Information Technology

Shaahin Dadjoo, DMD Candidate
Dental Medicine, Craniofacial Development, Mindfulness

Steven Randazzo
Open Innovation, User-Centered Design

Tabitha Moses, MS
Bioethics, Medicine, Neuroscience, Public Health

Tanmay Gokhale, MD PhD Candidate
Biomedical Engineering, Computational Modeling, Cardiology, Entrepreneurship

*Yewande Pearse, PhD
Neuroscience, Gene Therapy, Stem Cell Therapy

Zuber Memon
Affordable Healthcare Technologies, Open Innovation

*Massive-TEDMED Scholar. Learn more about Massive at

Simple Human Connections: Q&A with Sophie Andrews

In her 2017 TEDMED Talk, The Silver Line CEO Sophie Andrews speaks about how the best way to help another person is often just by being an empathetic listener. We caught up with Sophie to learn more about her efforts to foster human connections as a means to provide social connectivity for isolated senior citizens in the UK.

TEDMED: You begin your TEDMED Talk by sharing your personal story as a victim, and ultimately a survivor, of abuse. You turned to self-harm and other destructive behaviors as a way of coping. What would you say to someone who is suffering and doesn’t know where to turn?

SOPHIE: I’d say that you may not see it at the time but there is “life after…” and even though it will seem like there is no way out, there will be. Someone once said to me that nothing really bad or really good ever lasts forever and it’s true. Which means that you can survive and see the other side and there is help out there, although I realise more than most people that it’s hard to see the help at the time. I guess you need to be ready for the help to be able to receive it properly and that can take some time.

TEDMED: As a teenager, you relied on a helpline in a time of personal crisis, and you credit the service with saving your life. As an adult, you founded a hotline service, The Silver Line, for lonely senior citizens. In your opinion, what makes hotlines such a special form of support for people?

SOPHIE: For me it was the fact it was 24/7 and confidential—desperation doesn’t fit around a 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday timetable. Plus I wanted to be believed and trusted and to still feel that I was in control. And the support I received, and the support The Silver Line provides, offers that.

TEDMED: What types of topics are your callers looking to discuss, and what trends are you noticing with the calls you are receiving?

SOPHIE: Significant loss—partner, loss of driving license, loss of mobility, loss of confidence—are all factors that can lead to social isolation. We are receiving increasing numbers of calls at night and weekends when other services are closed. Plus mental health issues, particularly overnight, when statutory services can’t cope with demand.

TEDMED: The people calling into the Silver Line are often suffering from feelings of sadness and isolation, but there also seems to also be a lot of joy on these calls and group chats. Can you share a story from a Silver Line caller that always makes you smile or laugh?

SOPHIE: I love the group calls where people talk about shared interests— we so often forget that for many people having a conversation with more than one person at a time is a rare occurrence. My favourite group is the music group where people actually play musical instruments down the phone to each other. There is a real sense of belonging amongst the group and lots of laughter of course!

TEDMED: In addition to the empathetic ear that Silver Line provides, what other services are needed in order to improve the lives of older individuals suffering from social isolation?

SOPHIE: It doesn’t have to be complicated—it really is about simple human connection. Technology has a part to play in modern life but there is a tipping point where technology can sometimes replace the human connection. How often do we send an email or SMS message rather than picking up the phone or visiting someone? I don’t necessarily think that we need new services—we just need to look out for each other a bit more!

TEDMED: The UK is taking loneliness and social isolation seriously, with funding and increased national attention including the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness. Does the Silver Line have plans to work with this ministerial office? And, what would you say to someone who said loneliness wasn’t a public health problem?

SOPHIE: We are members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Loneliness which includes the new Minister for Loneliness. We speak with over 10,000 older people each week, so have an important part to play in terms of representing the voice of the older person and influencing at a national level. Loneliness is a public health problem because the cost of loneliness in terms of impact on health is proven and the impacts can be devastating (including increased incidence of chronic conditions and increased mortality rates). It is a problem that is potentially going to affect us all.

TEDMED: What are your predictions regarding the future of social isolation? As more people live longer, will they grow more isolated, or are we moving towards a more connected society for these populations?

SOPHIE: I worry that we are becoming less connected—social media gives a false perception of the number of friends we have and also sets expectations that everyone around us is somehow more popular as the information is visible for all to see. Yet in reality we are speaking to each other less and less, despite all the social media connections. The combination of an aging population and less social connection is a worrying one. We need to plan now for our retirements and think wider than just the financial planning—we need to plan ahead and invest in people and relationships now, outside of our work lives, so we have those strong investments in relationships for the future.

TEDMED: What was the TEDMED experience like for you? What advice would you have for a future Speaker?

SOPHIE: Terrifying! Exhilarating! Life changing! I’d recommend that you do it…if you are lucky enough to be asked. It’s a fantastic opportunity. I felt very supported and the people I met through the experience will always be remembered…and I’m keeping in touch with many of them too. Thank you for the opportunity.