Countdown to 2015: Innovation and Saving Lives at Birth

Ten years ago, the Gates Foundation launched the Grand Challenges in Global Health initiative, calling the world’s attention to the potential of science and innovation to advance solutions to some of the biggest problems in the developing world. Tackling such significant issues requires engaging forward-thinking, creative minds across a wide-range of disciplines, recognizing that “great ideas can come from anywhere and anyone.” In 2011, inspired by the Gates Foundation’s efforts, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched its own series of Grand Challenges, pushing this crowd-sourcing model to tackle some of the world’s most difficult development challenges.  With the launch of Saving Lives at Birth, the Grand Challenges for Development (GCD) initiative was born.

But we couldn’t do it alone. We partnered with others who place innovation at the heart of their efforts – the Government of Norway, the Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and U.K.’s Department for International Development (DFID). Together, we sought solutions that can dramatically reduce the deaths of mothers and newborns around the time of birth in the hardest to reach parts of the world.  To date, Saving Lives at Birth has identified and helped accelerate a total of 81 innovations to address the 289,000 maternal deaths, 2.8 million neo-natal deaths and 2.6 million stillbirths that occur each year.

Our rich pipeline of innovations has changed the landscape of maternal and newborn health in just four years. We are helping develop new forms of oxytocin to prevent and treat post-partum hemorrhage, a major cause of maternal mortality.  Inhaled and sublingual forms of oxytocin will overcome current barriers, such as refrigeration and administration, paving the way for widespread access and use.  We are helping ensure HIV-positive infants are given immediate access to essential medications by supporting new early infant diagnostics that can be used at the point-of-care, dramatically reducing the turnaround time of results from over a month to under an hour. We are increasing healthy pregnancies by promoting healthy mothers through nutrition interventions that address iron deficiency by fortifying tea and Vitamin A deficiency by fortifying yogurt.  

These innovations are helping make care more affordable and accessible than ever before and are already leading to direct impact for moms and newborns. One innovation, chlorhexidine for newborn cord care, has already been deployed to half a million newborns and at least 5000 lives have already been saved globally. Another - Rice University’s bCPAP (bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) system – a low-cost device used to treat acute respiratory distress - has shown remarkable progress. Rice saw up to a threefold increase in survival rates for newborns with respiratory distress versus the control group and is now scaling the bCPAP device in Malawi.  To date, over 700 babies have been treated with their device, potentially saving over 150 newborn lives.   

We have made tremendous progress, but our job is not done. Today, the Saving Lives at birth partners announced an additional investment of up to $50M to renew the program for another five years. Through this renewed commitment, we will continue to support the scale up of our most promising solutions and seek new innovations where we will have critical gaps. Together, we will bend the curve and bring an end to preventable child and maternal deaths.

The next few years are going to be crucial for maternal and newborn health care. Through our renewed investment in Saving Lives at Birth, we are renewing our commitment to millions of mothers and babies around the world.

Saving Lives at Birth will issue its next call for innovations in early 2015. For more information on the Challenge, visit here.