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President Clinton, AIDS and Operations Research

Clinton FoundationIt is heartening to see former President Clinton talk about “Operations Research” and even better to see outside groups see the promise of our field. At an address at the 16th Annual International AIDS Conference, President Clinton announced a new Consortium for Strategic HIV Operations Research. From the transcript (page 13/14):

Second point I want to make is while more money is necessary, it is nowhere near sufficient. It is our moral obligation to ensure that the enormous contributions already made and those that will be made are used most efficiently. Every single wasted dollar puts a life at risk.
A few days ago, my foundation unveiled our consortium for strategic operation research here in Toronto. It’s an initiative designed to help ensure that this huge investment of resources results in the highest quality care, most efficiently delivered for as many HIV infected people as possible. We want to apply the same planning methods that Fortune 500 companies use to manage their operations, so that we can make the most effective use of what will always be scarce resources until the number of people who are HIV positive begins to drop dramatically. Using simple open-source computer models, we’ll be able to help governments save more lives with the same human and financial resources.

Wow! An obvious reference to operations research and open source in the same paragraph!

A few months ago, I talked to some researchers at the Clinton Foundation. Often “Operations Research” in AIDS/HIV research is what we would call “Statistical Experimental Design”: how to best measure the effect of certain treatments. For instance, there is a book available online entitled: “Designing HIV/AIDS Intervention Studies: An Operations Research Handbook” that will not be recognizable as operations research as our field defines it.

While important, this approach ignores 99% of operations research. Issues like optimal resource allocation, stochastic models of disease spread, simulation and so on are equally or more important, but are under-studied in this area.The Clinton Foundation people seem to understand this, and want to bring the full power of OR to this field. The CSHOR has in place a simulation model of clinics that can be modified to fit local costs/resource availability to determine, for instance, the effect of having another nurse. The Q&A directly addresses the role of OR:

Why was CSHOR created?

The emerging field of operations research offers a practical and strategic approach to future planning for developing countries. Operations research can be performed on the ground, in real-time, to guide decision making at a single clinic or a regional or national HIV treatment program. Local data and best practices from programs around the world can be combined to help ensure consistency and quality of care.

Operations research is increasingly critical; as ever-vaster resources are poured into national HIV treatment programs, it is crucial to be sure they are used as efficiently to provide high-quality treatment and care for as many people as possible.

CSHOR was launched in response to direct appeals from CHAI’s partner countries for assistance with resource planning and allocation.

I am not sure “emerging field” is appropriate for a 60 year old field, but the rest is very encouraging.

OR has a huge amount to offer this area, and I am absolutely thrilled that the Clinton Foundation is using the skills of our field

{ 1 } Comments

  1. cy | August 19, 2006 at 2:36 am | Permalink

    thanks for this post! the applications really encourage me to pursue OR for my master’s degree. i barely heard about OR during my undergraduate years (mostly through simple maximization/minimization problems in calculus).

    pls. keep posting interesting applications such as this. thanks again!