How to ace your application to the Healthcare Innovation Award

A health worker vaccinates a child at a health centre in Chilundu, DRC. Photo by: Ivy Lahon / Save the Children

Each year, millions of children die before they reach their fifth birthday. As such, it’s one area where innovation is expected to make a huge impact.

GlaxoSmithKline and Save the Children are offering prizes totaling $1 million to organizations with innovative ideas to address under-5 mortality. This year, the Healthcare Innovation Award focuses on solutions that can improve the survival of infants during the first four weeks of their lives.

“We want to focus on this high-burden area, drive some movement in that area and hopefully have impact,” Dr. Allan Pamba, vice president for East Africa at GSK, told Devex.

Pamba launched the second Healthcare Innovation Award at the Partners’ Forum on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health earlier this week in Johannesburg, South Africa. GSK and Save the Children, he said, hope to receive as many applications as possible. Submission of applications will remain open through Aug. 25, 2014.

To those who wish to join the competition, here are some tips from Pamba and Elizabeth Molyneux, professor of pediatrics at the University of Malawi’s College of Medicine and spokeswoman for last year’s grand prize winner, Friends of Sick Children, Malawi.

Have a clear plan of action

Your proposal must indicate what you will need to implement your project. This includes a time frame and time line, required personnel and permissions from government, and travel and training costs.

Demonstrate that your innovation is different

Answer this question: How is your solution innovative and clever?

Pamba clarified that GSK and Save the Children are not only after innovative products, but also services. He gave the example of the Kangaroo Foundation in Colombia which won a $100,000 prize for its technique that promotes early skin-to-skin contact between mothers and their premature and newborn babies.

That’s “very simple but makes a massive difference,” Pamba said.

Another $100,000 award winner, MUSO, is implementing a community-based program in Mali which identifies women and children requiring health care before their symptoms escalate to a more serious condition.

Show how your innovation is scalable

You need not provide quantitative evidence, as doing so can be very difficult and time-consuming, Pamba acknowledged. What you can do is to present a logical flow for how you envision scaling up your innovation.

“If they [applicant organizations] can make an effort to describe the innovation and its potential impact, it will show the judges that there is real vision behind it,” Pamba said.

Demonstrate that your solution is sustainable

You must show that you can find more sources to scale up your innovation apart from the money which may be won from the challenge, such as by making sure your idea also addresses a need identified by global funders.

Friends of Sick Children, Malawi, had a clear commercial model for the bubble continuous positive airway pressure — a low-cost device helping newborns in respiratory distress breathe more easily — hence it won, Pamba noted.

“You can have a good idea but how it is going to be sustainable? What is the sustainability model for the idea?” Pamba said. “You should really be clear on that. It scores you a lot of brownie points.”

Your innovation needs to have been thoroughly tested        

Your solution must be proven to be safe and effective. Make sure to do a pilot study of it in the setting where you recommend it would be of value.

In the case of bCPAP, the device had gone through several modifications in a span of four years. It was tested against commercial, more expensive versions of the machine for efficiency and efficacy, according to Molyneux. In addition, at the neonatal unit of the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, infants on bCPAP were found to have fared better than those who received nasal prong oxygen, a standard of care.  

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About the author

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    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.