Two on Tuesday – Tuberculosis

Yesterday was world TB Day. In honor, I’ll offer two resources about multi-drug resistant Tuberculosis. MDR TB is very very scary. It also shows the challenges of any kind of health treatment program. It’s hard to keep patients in engaged in a long course of treatment and it is highly infectious.

This article talks about MDR TB in the Kyrgyz Republic. As an added bonus, using an x-ray to diagnose TB, as described in the article, is not all that accurate. You can’t identify specific strains. You really need sputum smear microscopy to make it work.

For more information on MDR TB, you can check the WHO MDR TB report. I attended the presentation of the report in DC and it’s both seriously researched and as frightening as one would expect.

An addendum: Another interesting TB document: notes on communicating with the media about TB. The WHO did a brilliant job of this, as their fairly dry report on a technical medical topic got all kinds of news coverage, including the New York Times.

Two on Tuesday, 3/4/2008

Two on Tuesday: Two blogs I’ve been reading lately

1) Technology, Health & Development. I always love to find blogs which cover a wide range of development topics in the hands-on way I enjoy, and this one is great. The current posting is about a health insurance scheme for Indian farmers that seems almost too good to be true. The THD sidebar is a treasure trove of interesting links.

2) Jeremiah Owyang’s web strategy blog. I am in love with this post, called “Stop fondling the hammer.” It’s about not confusing your web strategy tools with your web strategy. I think it points to a larger problem that afflicts many otherwise competent organizations; a new technique can be so exciting you want it to do everything.

Two on Tuesday – Meaty arguments

Two on Tuesday is a new feature where I find a couple examples of a phenomenon or issue that I find interesting, and try to learn something useful from them.

What I’ve found for you today is two blog postings that were hotly contested by their commenters. In other words, two interesting arguments. The real-time community knowledge aspect of blogs is one of my favorite things about this form, and a blog with passionate commenters is its epitome. There aren’t just two sides two every story, there are more like nine, and commentary from intelligent, passionate people is a great way to sort it out.

I therefore bring you:

1) Joshua Foust and Ann Marlowe continuing their ongoing feud on Registan.

2) Abu Aardvark and a bunch of commenters on the Anbar Awakening in Iraq.

A nice pair of postings that cast some light on the two major wars our country is fighting. (Some commenters are more worth reading than others, I admit.)


Two on Tuesday – Systems Failure

Two on Tuesday is a new feature where I find a couple examples of a phenomenon or issue that I find interesting, and try to learn something useful from them.

I recently ran into two examples of systems failure, both of which offer useful lessons in organizational function.

Example #1 – New Orleans. A community program to identify and report blighted houses gets canceled. Why? Because they never connected the web-based reporting system to the team which investigated. It would have been very simple to synchronize blight investigations with the complaints logged on the web, but it simply never happened. My guess is that the web site was designed by an IT department who had little or no contact with the people who actually did investigations.

Lesson learned: Don’t create a communications interface if you have no way of using the information you get from it.

Example #2 – the FAA. Safety investigator Mark Lund discovered that Northwest airlines mechanics were so incompetent they couldn’t close a cabin door or test an engine. When he tries to ground the planes, the FAA retaliates against him, not the airline. Why? Because the FAA was invested in its role as an agency that keeps American aviation flying, more its role as safety watchdog.

Lesson learned: You can’t be all things to all people. Give your investigators the independence they need to do their jobs right.

I spend a lot of time thinking about systems, and setting them up for success. Nearly as much as time as I spend thinking about behavior change. It’s easy to blame individual people when things go wrong, but we should design important process to help people make the right choices, and to catch errors. No system should ever depend on everybody doing their job right, because human beings just aren’t consistent enough.