Wanted: Groundbreaking Solutions to Save Lives

In rural Malawi and similar low-resource settings throughout the developing world, there is no rest for health care professionals. At a health clinic two hours outside of Blantyre, the doors never close—especially when there are pregnant women in need of attention—as one doctor and four nurse-midwives keep the clinic operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The most critically ill patients are referred to the prominent teaching hospital in Blantyre. There, babies in need of close monitoring may share beds and equipment if the volume of patients is too high. The dedicated staff, systems, and equipment are overly taxed – a warehouse-sized “equipment graveyard” is full of broken medical devices, which engineers diligently try to fix. Many of these technologies are inappropriate for the Malawian context – they are designed for low-intensity use, have incompatible voltage requirements, or only display foreign languages. As a result, several homemade devices replace commercial products.

The appetite for innovative approaches was high.

The hospital had just adopted barcode scanners to enable electronic medical records and was in the process of expanding their successful Kangaroo Mother Care program. A rugged device to treat respiratory distress – Rice University’s Pumani bCPAP – was saving babies’ lives.

These were just a sample of observations we digested during a recent trip to Malawi with the most recent cohort of Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development award recipients. We brought this group of innovators together to learn how to better develop, deliver and scale their life-saving innovations to reach even more mothers and infants during their most vulnerable hours. Although the “Xcelerator” workshop provided invaluable insights to our innovators, it was our surroundings that made the experience all the more inspiring. Our innovators saw firsthand the busy staff, the endless flow of patients in need, and the challenging health ecosystem in which they sought to generate positive impact. They also saw how a previous grantee’s technology was being applied and appreciated.

We need to keep finding innovators and help them deliver their groundbreaking interventions into the hands of those who need it most. On February 9th, we were thrilled to launch our fifth call for gamechanging innovations. The latest round of Saving Lives at Birth will continue to seek and support innovative prevention and treatment solutions that benefit mothers and newborns in developing countries around the time of birth. The fifth round builds upon on our successes and learnings – from the increasing need for demand-creation innovations to the value of diverse partnerships to deliver and sustain solutions, especially with partners on the ground. Round 5 will place an increased focus on advancing the most successful and transformational innovations as they transition to scale.

In its first four rounds, Saving Lives at Birth received over 2000 applications from 102 countries and awarded 91 grants based on their potential for transformational change. We’ve helped an Argentinian car mechanic turn his brilliant idea into a life-saving device to assist difficult labors, and a group in northern Nigeria empower conservative Islamic opinion leaders to become champions for maternal and newborn health Help us find the next game-changer to help mothers and babies in Malawi and around the world – submit your idea and spread the word!

To kick off this exciting new phase of Saving Lives at Birth, we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the future of maternal and newborn health innovation during a live Twitter chat on Thursday, February 12th from 10-11 a.m. EST. We’re tapping our pool of experts and innovators to answer your questions, so join us by following @GCDSavingLives and #SavingLivesRd5. Learn more at www.savinglivesatbirth.net and by following @GCDSavingLives.

This Challenge is a partnership of USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID).

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