August 05, 2014

A challenge that sparks innovation and saves lives

Senior Program Assistant

“Innovation can’t take place if people say we don’t need new tools,” said Partners in Health Co-founder Paul Farmer at an event sponsored by the Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development program last week in Washington, DC. And new tools were certainly on display at DevelopmentXChange 2014—a key component of the Saving Lives at Birth program. The DevelopmentXChange is an opportunity for hundreds of bright minds to come together and display groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in low- and middle-income countries. The event is also a time for key policymakers and decision makers to talk about the importance of science, research, and innovation for global health. Saving Lives at Birth—a partnership between the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Government of Norway, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK Department for International Development—provides funding for a select group of finalists that offer the most innovative new tools.

Large crowds were spotted at the DevelopmentXChange Marketplace during the morning of the event.
Large crowds were spotted at the DevelopmentXChange Marketplace the morning of the event.

The DevelopmentXChange opened up with a marketplace where finalists of the Saving Lives at Birth challenge could display their innovations and demonstrate how these new tools could make a difference in the lives of mothers and children in low-resourced settings. Imagine a giant science fair where, instead of competing for a blue ribbon, the participants are competing for funding to make their innovation a reality. On display were several proposed innovations from GHTC members FHI 360, Jhpiego, and PATH. FHI 360 proposed a synchronized schedule for postpartum women to receive family planning services and for their newborns to receive immunizations and growth monitoring all at the same time. One of the innovations Jhpiego developed was the E-Partogram—an affordable, easy-to-use handheld electronic decision-making tool for preventing and managing complications during labor. PATH was one of many other organizations to address postpartum hemorrhage by developing heat-stabilized oxytocin—a common treatment for hemorrhaging women after childbirth—in a fast-dissolving oral tablet that would treat postpartum hemorrhage.


USAID Administrator Raj Shah addresses the crowd at the DevelopmentXChange Forum
USAID Administrator Raj Shah addresses the crowd at the DevelopmentXChange Forum

After the marketplace, policymakers, scientists, members of the global health community, and the Saving Lives at Birth finalists gathered together for the DevelopmentXChange Forum, which included opening remarks from USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Global Health Katie Taylor, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and Paul Farmer. Administrator Shah commended many of the past year’s innovations for making a real difference in the lives of women and children, and commented on how the Saving Lives at Birth program influenced the creation of USAID’s new Global Development Lab.

The rest of the forum featured innovators from all over the world, including past Saving Lives at Birth challenge winners. One of the innovations featured at the forum was a new, low-cost device that assists in delivering babies when complications occur in the second stage of labor. The device—called the Odon Device—was originally thought of by an Argentine mechanic named Jorge Odon when he was thinking about how to get a cork out of a bottle one night. The Odon device is made of a film-like polyethylene material and could be a safer and easier way to deliver complicated births rather than using than forceps or a vacuum extractor. After Mr. Odon partnered with Becton, Dickinson and Company, and received funding from Saving Lives at Birth at last year’s DevelopmentXChange, the Odon Device was finally ready for full development. Now the device is being tested in clinical trials and—if approved—has the potential for wide application in resource poor settings.

If there was one thing very apparent during the day, it was that great, life-saving ideas can come from anyone—no matter what they do or where they live. Saving Lives at Birth is a good example of a mechanism that brings governments, foundations, and for-profit companies together to encourage creativity and innovation to tackle some of the world’s most pressing problems. The day concluded with Wendy Taylor—director of USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact—announcing the winners of the Saving Lives at Birth challenge. GHTC members PATH and FHI 360 both won seed grants to get their ideas up and running so that one day they could have the potential to protect and improve the lives of mothers and children all over the world. GHTC congratulates all of the challenge winners and is inspired by every single one of the innovators who were at this year’s DevelopmentXChange.