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Innovating To Save Lives At Birth


Somali woman holds a newly born baby. (file)

Initiative aims to find inexpensive, effective answers to maternal and child health quandaries in developing countries.

Birth is too often the most dangerous time in the lives of both mothers and infants. In low and middle income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the onset of labor marks the start of a high-risk period for both mother and baby that does not ease until at least 48 hours after birth. During this short period of time, 150,000 maternal deaths, 1.6 million neonatal deaths, and 1.2 million stillbirths occur each year.


Most of the at-risk mothers and infants have poor or no access to quality health care or trained health care professionals. Many complications could be prevented with prenatal care, improved nutrition birth spacing and proper care before and after the baby’s birth, that are too often out of reach of poor women who live in the country.

That is why three years ago, the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID; the government of Norway; Grand Challenges Canada; the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development; the World Bank; and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, formed the Saving Lives at Birth partnership. The initiative aims to find inexpensive, effective answers to maternal and child health quandaries in developing countries.

So, three years ago, Saving Lives at Birth announced the first Grand Challenge in Development: a contest for new ideas to save the lives of mothers and newborns in developing countries. The winners compete for grants from 250,000 to $2 million to develop their ideas and turn them into reality.

Of the 1500 ideas submitted from every corner of the world, 53 finalists were invited to Washington DC, to showcase their inventions. Of them, 22 nominees were chosen. Their ideas range from a device to treat a mother bleeding to death after giving birth, to a tiny packet of AIDS medication that can be used to prevent transmission of HIV from mother to child during home birth.

Young mothers and infants cannot wait, “they need students and designers, researchers and entrepreneurs like you to lead the change,” said U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice to the hopeful inventors. “The United States will continue to stand with you, finding ways to support your success, so that we can keep saving lives together.”
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