Hands in Hands

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 10:48

by Didier Pittet, Hand-Washing Provocateur


In 2006, Loséni Bengaly a chemist from Mali came to the HUG (University of Geneva Hospitals) to undertake a further education program in infection control. At the time, I immediately saw there was an opportunity to be seized. The program introducing alcohol-based handrubs to clean hands in healthcare had only just been launched. I was keen on experimenting and I needed committed and enthusiastic people like Loséni to move forward.


In a country where hospitals had few sinks (one per floor, if you were lucky), where these could be filthy and water flowed out yellow due to the state of the pipes, the success of the implementation of our campaign meant a radical change in the right direction.


Loséni came to Geneva for six months. He studied the “five moments for hand hygiene,” he trained, experimented and left with a kit allowing him to start manufacturing the alcohol-based formulation in Mali at low cost from sugar cane. After sending us samples from the first production batch, and receiving our approval to move forward, there was no going back.


And indeed, Loséni worked hard, so hard that the Minister of Health, Dolo Solominé, noticed his work. I went to Mali, I visited hospitals in Bamako, in the bush and I was amazed by the transformation of healthcare practices. Nurses and doctors were trained and the handrub was fitted in their pockets. The nightmare of having to wash hands at the other end of a ward and having to battle through a hundred beds lined up with two patients per bed plus the family and friends, meaning hands were dirty again by the time you had a patient to touch, was over.


Results were outstanding, so outstanding that Mali became the first leader in promoting the product in Africa. So amazing that, in September 2008, during the 58th Annual Assembly of Health Ministers of Africa in Yaoundé, Cameroun, twenty-eight ministers agreed to launch the program in their own countries.


Ten years later, the Ebola pandemic broke out. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia were in the front line. Collapsing infrastructures, precarious health systems meant thousands of lives were immediately threatened. Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) became a top priority. I went to Liberia and we started from scratch. There was nothing at all. I introduced the handrub. The nurses and the doctors were trained to use the product, and local alcohol-manufacturing plants emerged. This was the entry door to yet another transformation. The introduction of alcohol-based handrubs did not stop the pandemic but it certainly prevented its spreading further and helped to take care of those already infected in a more efficient and safer way. More importantly, it brought 21st century infection control practices to these West African countries.


These two examples, ten years apart, show we still have a lot to do. There are still countries at risk. There are still people at risk all over the world. This is why my participation in TEDxPlaceDesNations is so important to me. It means awareness. It means people starting to see things from a different perspective. Loséni never imagined his interest in conditions in his workplace would change healthcare in his country. Like him, we can all be actors of change.


TEDxPlaceDesNations: From Geneva to the world

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 - 10:34

by Michael Møller, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Geneva




What does International Geneva mean to you?  Do you see it as a place where there is much talk and little action?  The seat of byzantine organizations working in  isolation from the real world? 


In fact, the impact of International Geneva, as a global innovative hub is very real, and I see it every day. It touches the lives of millions of people around the world. I realized early on, when I took up my first job in Geneva in 1979 with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the transformational power of the work of dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals who gather here to address today’s issues and shape tomorrow’s future. It is tangible and impactful yet mostly unnoticed.


We are now trying to change perceptions so that decision-makers and the public at large understand that Geneva is a unique and vibrant ecosystem of talent and expertise  that truly makes a positive difference.  I could give you hundreds of examples of individuals who have made a real difference. Let me just cite three.


Maryanne Diamond, Chair of the International Disability Alliance (IDA), worked tirelessly with the World Intellectual Property Organization towards the adoption of the Marrakech Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled. The Treaty was a milestone in the fight for access to knowledge and information. 


Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan Parliamentarian, champions education, gender equality and democracy through her collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. She was the first-ever Afghan woman elected as deputy speaker of Parliament. As a woman and politician, she has long faced threats on her life but has never bowed to pressure.


Vincent Cochetel, Director of the Bureau for Europe at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was kidnapped near Chechnya in 1998. For 317 days, he was chained to a bed frame in a cellar, ill-treated by his abductors and deprived of light. Today, far from withdrawing from humanitarian work, he is more determined than ever to improve the rights of refugees worldwide.


As hundreds of people listened last December at the Palais des Nations to these and eight other speakers’ extraordinary stories during the first TEDxPlaceDesNations, there was a rare mood of closeness and shared aspirations. People cried and laughed and I really felt  that this one event could help them choose to become or remain engaged in our collective efforts. Thousands more watched on line.


So on 11 February 2016, I will be attending the second edition of TEDxPlaceDesNations. 


It will bring together 11 new individuals, with unique stories to tell on democracy, refugees, energy, patient safety, human rights and technology.  They are extraordinary people who present solutions and spread ideas.


I will be watching. Will you?



When Hazards Become Disasters - Article by Rohini Swaminathan

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 15:48


A month ago, unprecedented rains fell over my city, Chennai, India killing over 200 people and leaving hundreds homeless. Sitting thousands of miles away, I helplessly watched my friends and family and fellow citizens as they tried to cope up with the sinking city.

After all, Disaster Risk Reduction, or DRR is what I do for a living today. Part of my job is to train local authorities in developing countries on how to reduce risks posed by natural hazards. So seeing my own city losing its ability to handle the monsoon, was a blow.


Why weren’t we prepared?

Disaster preparedness was clearly missing at community level. Schools, colleges, orphanages, old age homes, everything went under water. Even one of the biggest hospitals’ generator was affected by floods, cutting the power supply to life support systems in its intensive care unit.

Let us take a minute to think about this.

How did we not know where to keep the generator? Or rather why didn’t we even know that the hospital was located in a flood risk zone? It is true that December 1, 2015 had the highest recorded rainfall in the city’s history. Yes, it was the strongest ever El-Niño and hottest ever Indian Ocean which led to the heavy rains.


Is nature to be blamed?

But it is also true that too often governments and individuals around the world resign themselves to what they see as  the inevitable consequences of nature’s wrath and are reluctant to allocate resources for prevention.

This short animation shows one of the worst affected areas in Chennai and how it grew in the last 15 years.



Chennai experiences heavy rains every ten years. And yet, after a First Master Plan for the city got approved in 1976, it took 32 years for a Second Master Plan to come into force in 2008! 32 years during which the city kept growing. Infrastructure development clogged waterways and occupied most of the flood plains.

It is high time we understood that with strong focus on sustainable development, natural hazards can be prevented from becoming a catastrophic disaster. It is high time we stopped blaming nature.


The way forward

At UNOSAT, UNITAR’s Operational Satellite Applications Programme, we are striving to promote the concept of DRR through geospatial technology. Satellite data combined with geographic information systems provide an excellent platform to understand specific risks. And if we know where the risks are, we can act accordingly.

There will definitely be another monsoon. It may be not as bad or it may be worse than this one. So, let us build resilient communities and anticipate what is to happen.  Let us educate everyone on how to identify risks. Let us ensure that cities grow in a sustainable manner. Let us prepare, mitigate, respond and ’Build Back Better’

And this is what motivates me personally towards my upcoming talk at TEDxPlaceDesNations on 11 Feb 2016. What if we can save lives and property simply by passing on the knowledge we have to those who need it? What if we can prevent a hazard from turning into a disaster?

As the old proverb goes, “Prevention is better than cure”.




TEDxPlacedesNations - Performance

Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 15:49

Have you ever heard a digital orchestra perform?

TEDxPlaceDesNations showcases unique stories delivered by unique individuals, as well as innovative projects or creative artistic performances.

In 2016, the futuristic orchestra, which was formed by three young Swiss dynamic individuals, will perform as part of TEDxPlaceDesNations on 11 February in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room.

What does a computer orchestra look like? A maestro, a crowd-source platform, some computers, some waves, all put together with grace and ingenuity and a gift for design.

The result? Watch, and be inspired.

Stay tuned for more information on TEDxPlaceDesNations.




TEDxPlaceDesNations 2016: Viewing Parties

Thursday, December 3, 2015 - 09:43

We are happy to announce our first confirmed viewing parties! They will be held at:

- University of Derby, United Kingdom



- Universitat de Barcelona - Máster en Estudios Internacionales, Spain




Viewing parties offer a unique opportunity to gather your local community together, connect with your partners and create synergies for new collaborations.

If you are interested in hosting one, take two minutes and register here.

If you need more information, feel free to contact the TEDxPlaceDesNations team at tedxplacedesnations@unog.ch.

TEDxPlacedesNations - Performance

Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 11:59

Live Stream start:

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