I was asked to do a story because my editor had seen this video about this guy who developed a drone to fly out to rural health clinics in Malawi and bring blood samples back to a central lab to test for HIV. And it was this really slick video, very dramatic, it had kind of thumping music, and it presented this really incredible profile of a technology that basically solved this problem, that it takes weeks to get someone their HIV tests in a really remote part of Africa.
Normally the blood would get sent on motorcycles to a central lab. It would get tested, the results would get back onto the motorcycle in a packet with other stuff that was going out to the clinic. And about a month later the people at the health clinic might know whether this person has HIV or not, and so this Silicon Valley guy had come up with this way to solve that. And it can do that. The problem is that the drone can’t deliver HIV meds to those clinics. The drone can’t overcome the problems of a lack of infrastructure to deliver healthcare on a regular basis so that people would actually be able to do something about having HIV. So all it does is solve the question of whether or not people have HIV or not, and I thought this was a really interesting ethical question because it’s like this technology is really great at solving one part of the problem. But if it only solves one part of the problem then you’re spending all of this money on simply getting people the answer to whether or not they have this disease, without dealing with the fact that you can’t get the HIV meds in these rural clinics on a reliable consistent basis. And wouldn’t we be better off spending the money to try and set up systems that work in that context to make sure that maybe it’s fewer people ... But, that people who get onto HIV meds are able to stay on them for the rest of their lives. And that’s not as sexy an issue as having your drone fly over the beautiful African landscape, but I think that problem and that issue just shows some of the ethical dilemmas around trying to deploy technology to some of these problems.
I didn’t [write the story] because I didn't want to just do a story that just rips this project apart and short of getting somebody else to come in and sort of say all that, all of that was going to be coming for me. So in the end, I just passed on it, and maybe down the road, I will try to do something that sort of looks at these types of issues. But, on that one, I was asked to do this story on just that. All I basically had was an interview with this guy and his slick video, and rather than do something that I felt didn’t put this into its proper context I just didn’t do anything at all. So, yeah.
This content was created as a direct result of an interview with Jason Beaubien. His answer was edited for clarity and to fit this format.
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