Saving lives at birth

Innovators awarded for new technologies for women and children

About $14 million has been awarded to innovations aimed at saving the lives of mothers and children around the world during a landmark event hosted by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rajiv Shah, administrator for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). “We have a tremendous opportunity to take advantage of all of the changes that are occurring in the world today and put them to work on behalf of development,” Clinton said during the recent Saving Lives at Birth Development Exchange, adding “We know that it’s moving so quickly, there is no way to keep up with the fast-paced global innovation contest that is happening on products and goods and services, but we can do our part to make sure that we harness all of that scientific and technological capacity on behalf of the poor and the needy.”

The Development Exchange was part of Saving Lives at Birth:A Grand Challenge for Development, a program launched in March and led by USAID in partnership with the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the World Bank. The program provides grants to foster innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns. Following more than 600 applications from around the world, 77 finalists recently travelled to Washington, DC, to compete in the final stage of the competition at the Development Exchange. Global Health Technologies Coalition (GHTC) member PATH was among the finalists, presenting five solutions to address the causes of maternal and newborn deaths in rural areas of the developing world.  GHTC member the Population Council was also among the 19 finalists for its clinical screening device called Baby Monitor.

At the end of the three-day event, 19 finalists with the most promising solutions were announced. The finalists include an invention that transforms a simple cell phone into a portable blood-oxygen tester, the creation of “pre-natal sprinkles” to get critically needed calcium into the diets of pregnant women, and efforts to develop an aerosol drug to treat postpartum hemorrhage.

Following final negotiations, the award winners will receive one of two grants: Seed grants of up to $250,000 each will support the development and validation needed to bring either component innovations or integrated innovations to proof-of-concept. Transition grants of up to $2 million each will support the transition to scale of promising innovations.

Several speakers at the exchange stressed that efforts to stimulate global health innovations—such as the Saving Lives at Birth program—are critically needed. Indeed, commercial incentives are often insufficient to drive health innovations for the developing world, making grants and other incentive programs vital. In addition, programs like Saving Lives at Birth can bring science, technology, and innovation to development, lowering the cost of saving lives around the world—something that USAID is uniquely positioned to accomplish. "Especially in these very difficult economic times ... coming up with more innovative, more local and sustainable ways to make it cheaper and easier to help mothers survive child birth and help children survive the first 48 hours of life is what this program is all about,” Shah said.

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