Listen up everyone; it’s time to put on your thinking cap. Each year, 1.6 million neonatal deaths, 1.2 million stillbirths and 150,000 mothers die in the high risk period that begins at the onset of labor and does not ease until at least 48 hours after birth. It’s sad to think that in the developing world, the birthday — a day of celebration — is still the most dangerous day for a mother and her newborn. This is simply unacceptable and it’s time to get innovative about how to address this global health challenge.
This morning I had the opportunity to attend the launch of a new partnership, “Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development,” with USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and the World Bank. The partnership seeks innovative prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant women and newborns in rural, low-resource settings and over the next five years plans to invest at least $50 million in groundbreaking and sustainable projects around the world.
The Saving Lives at Birth partnership will invest in innovative approaches across three areas, including new technologies, service delivery and demand. This will help address roadblocks to care such as a lack of medical technologies appropriate for the community or clinic setting. Too few trained, motivated, equipped and properly located health staff and a lack of information available to mothers about health services and healthy behaviors.
Solutions to this global challenge should be affordable, achievable, scalable and most importantly, innovative. This challenge is about dreaming up new ways to address an old problem and will require those that take up the challenge to be daring in their new approaches. To this point, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, shared stories from her former days working at Microsoft where innovation was key to driving success. She talked about how ironic it is that we are able to achieve bigger and bigger things with technology while the devices that we use get smaller and smaller. However, in contrast, many places in the world are still using tuberculosis diagnostic technology from 100 years ago.
If the same innovative approach is used to address global health challenges, not only will the human condition improve, but greater efficiency in health care will offer the promise of faster results and quality services to ensure the maximum benefit of investments and reduce costs over the long term.
It’s time to think outside the box for mothers and newborns and take up the grand challenge to save lives at birth. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded the audience this morning “Every woman, whoever she is, wherever she is, should be able to live without the fear that she will lose her baby or her baby will lose her.”