Health Effort to Provide Childcare in Poor Areas Enters Sixth Year

The USAID program has mobilized the world’s brightest thinkers to address the critical issue of maternal and newborn health for the past six years.

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Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development launched its sixth call for groundbreaking, sustainable innovations to help save the lives of mothers and newborns in the hardest to reach corners of the world.

This round of awards will place an increased focus on advancing the most successful and transformational innovations as they transition to scale.

The program has mobilized the world’s brightest thinkers to address the critical issue of maternal and newborn health, and to date, the Grand Challenge for Development has funded 92 innovations over the course of five award rounds in three different grant categories.

These include Seed Funds to develop and assess the feasibility of innovative ideas, Validation Funds to introduce and validate the effectiveness of innovations to reach proof-of-concept, and Transition Funds to transition innovations with demonstrated proof-of-concept toward scale up.

"Too many women and newborns die every day from preventable deaths -- many during the first 48 hours of birth, and almost all in the poorest parts of the world where access to quality care is limited. Sadly, many tools exist that could have saved their lives, but often these interventions are too expensive and simply not available to those who need them," Wendy Taylor, director of USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact, told eWEEK.

Taylor said to address this innovation gap, new tools are needed that are cheaper, better adapted for use by low-skilled workers and that operate around constraints such as limited electricity.

"We also need improved approaches to delivering high quality care and bold ideas to empower pregnant women and their families," she explained. "To date, through Saving Lives at Birth, we’ve provided nearly $60 million to more than 90 innovators -- and we’re committed to spend up to $100 million over a decade."

Taylor noted in developing countries, up to almost a third of drugs sold are counterfeit and up to half are substandard. For example, half of all antimalarial drugs don’t meet quality standards, contributing to over 200,000 maternal and newborn deaths every year.

To combat this, Boston University created PharmaCheck -- a counterfeit and substandard drug detector that fits inside of a suitcase. Not only is the device user-friendly, portable, and fast, it has the potential to completely disrupt how drugs are tested for quality today.

The device, which reports the amount of active ingredient in a pill, is currently undergoing testing in Ghana.

Other innovations and successes that have come out of this program in the past include deployment of Uterine Balloon Tamponades (UBTs) in Sierra Leone and Kenya, reusable intrauterine devices (IUD), and the introduction of chlorhexidine (CHX), a low-cost antiseptic, in Nepal.