Hope for newborns

At the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Malawi, a boy, not even 2 weeks old, sleeps in silence. He was born premature and shows signs of it — weighing just over a kilogram — but is kept alive, thanks partly to a machine developed by a local charity known as Friends of Sick Children in Malawi.

The bubble continuous positive airway pressure is an inexpensive version of a device found in developed countries to help newborns suffering from respiratory distress; the former can be produced for $400 while the latter costs $6,000. And it won the top prize of the GlaxoSmithKline-Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award.

The runners-up were BRAC of Bangladesh, MUSO of Mali, Microclinic Technologies from Kenya and the Kangaroo Foundation in Colombia. Watch the above video, provided exclusively to Devex, to learn more about their winning innovations.

The award forms part of the partnership between GSK and Save the Children designed to save the lives of a million children in developing countries. It comes with a cash prize of $1 million, shared among the grantees, though in varying amounts.

Choosing the winners came down to which organizations offer proven and tested innovations which when scaled up have the potential to massively reduce mortality among children aged below 5 in developing countries. There’s a particular focus on ideas that promote neonatal health as deaths occurring within the first 28 days of life account for 41 percent of under-5 mortality worldwide.

“There are lots of people out there doing lots of really fantastic work that reduce under-5 child mortality and we thought it [the award] was the best way to highlight some of the best ones of those, and hopefully also give the momentum, so that innovations that really work to make a difference can be brought to scale even quicker,” Dr. Allan Pamba, director for public engagement and access initiatives at GSK, told Devex.

Pamba likens the award to the Oscars.

“If you look at the movie sector, the best movie stars and film directors are awarded Oscars and they continue to go ahead and do great work in film and the arts,” he said. “How much more do we need that for health?”

For its innovation, Friends of Sick Children in Malawi took home $400,000. Initially though, the plan was to allocate $250,000 to the top prize and the remaining amount to be divvied up among runners-up. But after reviewing the finalists’ entries, the judging panel decided on the grant size based on what it thought would be needed to help bring the chosen innovations to the next level of scale.

Friends of Sick Children in Malawi hopes to replicate the bCPAP technology in South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. That would entail testing and getting the product into the health system as well as training medical doctors in using the device; to do so would require substantial resources, noted Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, director of program policy and quality at Save the Children.

“In the world of development, we have a lot of great pilots which never go to scale because there isn’t sufficient resource behind them to test whether or not they are viable,” Owusu-Gyamfi told Devex.

The winners are not obligated to report about how they have used the cash rewards. But GSK and Save the Children intend to connect anew with the awardees in a year’s time to find out about their projects’ progress. Pamba said the partners hope to receive “some good news” by then, say for instance, how the award opened up opportunity for the winning organizations to secure further funding.

In the meantime, the steering committee for the GSK-Save the Children partnership is reviewing the award process. It has no concrete plan at the moment to launch a second round; that would be known once the review wraps up which is expected in the first quarter of 2014, according to Owusu-Gyamfi.

“One of the questions we will need to say: Is this the most effective use of $1 million as a contribution to reducing child and maternal mortality?” Owusu-Gyamfi told Devex. “Like every good partnership, we review every component of our partnership to ensure that the funds we are using are a continual value addition process and offers value for money.”

Read our previous #innov8aid.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.

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