Innovations to Save Moms and Babies

Six hundred grant proposals recently poured into U.S. Agency for International Development from around the globe. Each had the potential to become the next breakthrough in maternal and infant health -- the ultimate aspiration of an international partnership called Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge in Development with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the Government of Norway, and The World Bank.

Grand Challenges are designed to mobilize the world's brightest thinkers, researchers and entrepreneurs to help break major roadblocks in development. The first in a series of Grand Challenges for USAID, Saving Lives at Birth called for groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant mothers and newborns around the time of birth in rural settings.

A few weeks ago, we brought together 77 grant finalists at a DevelopmentXChange to display their ideas and meet with like-minded problem-solvers, global health experts and development funders. I was inspired by the ingenuity, focus and energy behind each proposal, which included innovations for promising new technologies and delivery methods.

One finalist is working to convert oxytocin, a life-saving drug that treats postpartum hemorrhage--into an aerosol spray, eliminating the need for refrigeration. Another team devised an affordable respiratory support device for infants using household aquarium pumps. One group is developing a low-cost mobile platform that can monitor blood loss in real-time using cameras on cell phones.

For many women in rural areas, reaching a health clinic during an emergency or as they go into labor is nearly impossible without reliable transportation. One finalist came up with a simple but effective solution: partner local governments with private taxi drivers. With a commitment from local governments to subsidize or cover the costs of transportation, this plan could prove to be a financially stable and low cost way to ensure women have access to transportation for routine and emergency care.

We know that it is not sufficient to simply develop a single innovation that can save lives. We also have to find ways to deliver these innovations to scale in order have countrywide impact for those in greatest need. If we can achieve this, mothers around the world will be able to deliver safely and newborns will have a healthy start at life.

While the DevelopmentXChange has ended, the community of innovators continues to build. To get a sense of the excitement around Saving Lives at Birth, meet some of the finalists and see their innovations, we've put together this video documentary which captures the spirit of this initiative.