Wendy Taylor

Saving Mothers and Their Babies: Innovators working to solve problems in the hardest-to-reach regions of the world

Mothers and babies are treasured members of our families and societies. Yet each year we lose hundreds of thousands of mothers and almost 3 million infants within the first three months of birth – most of whom live in the developing world.

“Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development” calls on global solvers to submit innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in the poorest, hardest-to-reach communities. The program seeks to uncover groundbreaking ideas that can leapfrog existing products and conventional approaches to accelerate progress for mothers and their babies.

More than 100 innovators from around the world with one common goal – to protect mothers and newborns during their most vulnerable hours – recently gathered to network, collaborate, learn and forge partnerships at the annual “Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange” in Washington, D.C. Around half of the attendees were finalists in Saving Lives at Birth’s fifth and latest global call for innovations.

Over the past four years, Saving Lives at Birth has provided more than $47 million in funding for 81 projects in over 24 countries. The portfolio is incredibly diverse, ranging from a simple uterine balloon tamponade to treat postpartum hemorrhage, to a tackle-box-sized suitcase that detects counterfeit medication, to tiny ketchup-like packets that store antiretroviral AIDS medication. Many of the investments are already having an impact as they begin to scale – benefitting more than 1.5 million women and newborns and saving at least 4,000 lives to date.

Saving Lives at Birth nominated 17 promising ideas to add to its impressive and growing group of innovators. These newest innovations rose to the top from a pool of more than 750 submissions, more than half of which came from low- and middle-income countries. The program will be announcing additional nominees for transition-to-scale awards (up to $2 million) later this year.

The newest Round 5 validation grants (around $250,000) include:

Bempu Health Private Ltd.Bangalore, Karnataka, India: Introduction of a simple, low-cost newborn wristband that alerts a mother in case of hypothermia, enabling early action in India.

Bioceptive Inc.New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.: Validation of a novel, reusable IUD inserter in Bangladesh to expand access to long-acting, reversible contraception.

Emory UniversityAtlanta, Ga., U.S.: Validation of a microneedle patch for tetanus toxoid vaccination.

Ifakara Health InstituteDar Es Salaam, Tanzania: Testing the emergency aerial delivery of blood and lifesaving medicines to mothers in rural Tanzania.

Lucky Iron Fish Inc. Guelph, Ontario, Canada: Scale-up of Lucky Iron Fish, a low-cost, innovative solution to iron deficiency, saving lives of women and children in urban Cambodia.

Mbarara University of Science and TechnologyMbarara, Uganda: Testing of the Augmented Infant Resuscitator, which provides instant feedback to enable self-training, skills retention and rapid corrective action for health workers in Uganda.

Moi University College of Health SciencesEldoret, Kenya: Testing a peer-support model that groups pregnant women together in the same community to receive maternal and child health services.

Nanobiosym Inc.Cambridge, Mass., U.S.: Validation of the Gene-RADAR nanotechnology platform to detect HIV in infants in Rwanda.

PATHSeattle, Wash., U.S.: Validation of the NIFTY cup, a simple, safe, ergonomic and affordable tool designed to optimize breast feeding to preterm infants and other infants with breastfeeding difficulties.

The Mintaka Foundation for Medical Research Geneva, Switzerland: Further development of a highly heat-resistant and non-invasive form of oxytocin to reduce maternal death through post-partum hemorrhage.

University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Mich., U.S.: Design and assessment of a task-shifting assistive contraceptive insertion device to increase access to long-term contraception in low-resource settings.

University of Nairobi Nairobi, Kenya: Validation of a sustainable, barcode-based incentive system that rewards mothers with discounts on essential items to encourage antenatal care attendance in Kenya.

WHO Geneva, Switzerland: Clinical validation of the Odon device for assisted vaginal delivery.

And the four newest seed grants (up to $250,000) include:

Diagnostics for All Cambridge, Mass., U.S.: Development of a single point-of-care, sensitive, low-cost, rapid, paper-based diagnostic test for anemia, HIV, HBV and syphilis to streamline the screening of pregnant women during antenatal care.

Georgia Tech Research Corp. Atlanta, Ga., U.S.: Development and testing of a low-cost, portable technology to assess the risk of obstructed labor in Ethiopia.

University of Toronto Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Development of quadruple fortified salt for simultaneous delivery of iron, folic acid, vitamin B12 and iodine.

William Marsh Rice University Houston, Texas, U.S.: Development of a low-cost, point-of-care bilirubin measurement device to diagnose neonatal jaundice and monitor phototherapy in low-resource settings.

Saving Lives at Birth welcomes its newest innovators and is confident that they will further the initiative’s mission to make childbirth the safe experience it should be for everyone, regardless of where they are in the world.

To learn more about Saving Lives at Birth and its five rounds of innovators working to improve maternal and newborn health, click here.

Wendy Taylor is director of the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Health Care, Technology
reproductive health