The changing world of global health innovations

A community health worker speaking with a mother holding her three-week-old infant.

New approaches to accelerating impact

In Ethiopia, a community health worker tickles a newborn before administering immunizations against pneumonia and diarrhea. In Haiti, a skilled birth attendant uses a simple bag and mask to save an infant who is struggling to take her first breath. In India, a Ministry of Health official reviews scorecards with district-level data to evaluate nationwide progress.

Today, we are pioneering a child survival revolution driven by the power of innovation to realize a world where all children survive and thrive. By equipping community health workers with simple, affordable technologies, we can deliver essential health services right to the doorstep of vulnerable families—enabling countries to leapfrog slower, more traditional paths to improving the health of their children. This approach has helped cut child mortality in half in two decades. Each day this year, 17,000 more children will live, laugh, play, and learn compared to 20 years ago.

New technologies, however, still take too long to reach those who need them most. Health facilities remain underfunded and understaffed. And poor monitoring and evaluation means we do not often know what is and is not working. This year, in fact, more than 6 million children will die before their fifth birthday from causes we know how to prevent.

With a smart, focused innovative approach, we know we can save millions of lives.That is why, two years ago, we helped host a global call to action to rally the world behind a new approach and a single, comprehensive goal: ending preventable child deaths by 2035. Together, we agreed to prioritize evidence-based solutions and redirect resources to reach the poorest of the poor, who are the most likely to die from preventable causes.

This past year, we reconvened the global community at Acting on the Call: Ending Preventable Child and Maternal Deaths to take stock of our progress. With a greater emphasis on science, business, and innovation, developing countries themselves have stepped forward to lead with energy and focus. Sixteen countries have launched their own calls to action, set national targets, and created evidence-based report cards and action plans to focus resources and lifesaving interventions in the most vulnerable regions.

These leaps forward are catalyzing new solutions along the continuum of care—from reproductive and maternal health to newborn and child health. In Zambia, a public-private partnership called Saving Mothers, Giving Life is using geospatial technology to map travel time to clinics and establishing a fleet of motorcycle ambulances to reach women in an emergency. In just one year, maternal mortality declined by roughly one-third in the districts covered by the partnership.

In Nepal, we supported randomized control trials and feasibility studies demonstrating that the antiseptic chlorhexidine cuts infant mortality by 23% for pennies per dose. We also partnered with a local company to take this solution to scale. Through Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, we are investing in at least 59 global health game-changing innovations just like chlorhexidine.

In the past two State of the Union addresses, President Obama called upon the US to join the world in ending extreme poverty and its most devastating consequences—child hunger and child death—in the next two decades. We know we can get this done, and we know the impact it will have. Ending child death is the first step in ensuring more children learn, get good jobs, and grow their economies. While accomplishing this mission would be a great moral victory, it is also critical to our own nation’s stability, security, and prosperity. With a smart, focused, innovative approach, we know we can save millions of lives—and create ripples of change that transform the future of families and countries.

Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.