Texan of the Year 2013 finalist: Eric Bing

Prof. Eric Bing of SMU and the Bush Institute is a finalist for "Texan of the Year"

Eric Bing

There was a reason why, three years ago, the Bush Institute brought in Dr. Eric Bing as the first director of its global health initiative. The Harvard-educated psychiatrist had spent most of his adult life trying to improve health care for the poor.

He worked for 20 years with HIV/AIDS patients in the Watts section of Los Angeles, co-founding a mental health program through Charles Drew University. He grew it to include things such as in-home nursing, substance-abuse treatment and a food bank. Bing took lessons learned in the HIV battle to Africa — Angola, Namibia and Rwanda — where there, too, he was a multiplier and hatched prevention, testing and treatment programs.

Bing, 53, was a natural fit for the Bush Institute, with its focus on Africa and HIV/AIDS. He used the position to create programs such as the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon project to reduce cervical and breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

In a life filled with service, focus and success, this year was something special. That’s because of the release of Bing’s book, Pharmacy on a Bicycle, that details the obstacles — and solutions — to health care in places without paved roads and where people might be more prone to visit a traditional healer, what we might call a medicine man, than a doctor.

The book is a road map for improving health care worldwide. It shows how to increase efficiencies and build partnerships to increase access, use and quality of service.

Efficiencies, partnerships, quality of service? Sounds more like a business manual than a book about practicing medicine in Africa. That’s no accident. Bing’s book was co-written with Rice University business professor Marc Epstein, who had been taking business students to Africa for three years.

“The things we’re talking about — innovation, maximizing efficiencies — are not unique to developing countries,” Bing said. “They’re not even unique to health care.”

Many of their solutions are simple, common-sense ideas culled from Bing’s travels: putting mobile phones into the hands of nurses, using simple and quick diagnostic tests and treatments (such as using vinegar to detect cancerous cells in the cervix) and, yes, using “pharmacy brigades” on bicycles to get medicines to remote locations. Other solutions are more complex, such as developing health franchises and networks.

The goal is going beyond immediate health-care needs to find long-term, sustainable solutions. That means adding corporations and entrepreneurs to the traditional government-charity mix. Bing writes, for example, about a partnership between Coca-Cola and entrepreneur Dean Kamen to develop a water-purification system that provides drinking water to 300 people. It uses less electricity than a hair dryer and can be powered by a generator, solar cells or biomass.

“Charity without understanding markets does not lend itself to sustainability,” said David Chard, dean of education at SMU, where Bing also now teaches.

Bing’s evangelism for better health care in developing countries, and the new book that helps spread the word, earn him a place among the finalists for 2013 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

From The Dallas Morning News