Lifesaving Innovations On Stage at USAID’s DevelopmentXChange

Posted on July 23, 2015 by Stephanie Bowen, Sr. Communications Manager, MAMA
Cross-posted on the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA) Website.  
Despite valiant, often successful efforts by governments, charitable organizations, corporations and private citizens, too many babies continue to die during their first month of life – nearly 3 million worldwide. It is with that backdrop that in 2011, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development.
Along with partners including the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and Britain’s Department of International Development (DfID), USAID wanted to inspire innovative solutions, solutions that might be considered too risky for other funders but had the potential to transform health outcomes for the most vulnerable pregnant women and newborns during the most vulnerable time in their lives.
Donna Brezinski, MD, founder and CEO of Little Sparrows TechnologiesOn July 22nd in Washington, D.C., they welcomed a new partner – the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) – and hosted the fifth Development XChange. Designed to propel innovators forward with cash and cache, the XChange featured a pitch session and marketplace, where inventors, investors and development professionals could come together to learn about the latest technologies, be challenged by their peers, and ultimately, leave inspired to continue this work.
“A great way to globally source ideas can come from anywhere, anyone,” said Wendy Taylor, Director of the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact at USAID. “We’re looking for big game changers and we created a space where we can be a bit riskier.” But innovation and risk doesn’t necessarily mean high tech or high cost.
One of the newest innovations the partnership is funding is a uterine balloon tamponade (UBT), meant to address one of the leading killers of pregnant women worldwide: post-partum hemorrhage. Created at Massachusetts General Hospital, the simple and affordable kit is used to insert a balloon – which is really an average, everyday condom, generally available free of charge in poor countries – that is inserted in to the uterus with a catheter then inflated with water to stop the bleeding. And save lives.
Dr. Thomas Burke, Chief of the Division of Global Health and Human Rights at Massachusetts General Hospital, spoke about testing the UBT in nine countries. Of 234 women who came into a facility hemorrhaging, 34% were in an advance stage of shock, half of whom would be expected to die. But with use of the kit, nearly all – 98% -- survived. In speaking with doctors in charge of the women’s care, they said they would’ve very likely have done an emergency hysterectomy on the women. In many poor countries, women who’ve had hysterectomies become marginalized, and are shunned from their communities, making the UBT an innovative solution that has the potential to save lives and improve futures.
“Innovation is the highway, but impact is the destination,” said Dr. Peter A. Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. “You need innovation to reach the people you can’t reach, to accelerate impact. And we must layer innovation on top of things that are working, like vaccines.” MAMA knows this all too well. That’s why we stay true to what we know works – providing women with trusted health information – while continuing to iterate on our work, closely watch trends in mobile phone and related technologies and maintain a willingness to take calculated risks.
Also launched in 2011, MAMA, like Saving Lives at Birth, knows that we must embrace innovation and be willing to fail if we are to unlock the solutions that are to see the kind of success that will bring about the transformative change that we are all working toward – the kind of change that will create a world where no mother dies in childbirth and every child has the opportunity to grow up happy, healthy and able to contribute to a prosperous society.