Scaling innovations to save lives of women and children pre- and post-2015

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In 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) initiative to mobilize and intensify global action to improve the health of women and children around the world. The EWEC initiative hosted the Accountability Commission, the independent Expert Review Group, the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women’s and Children’s Health, and the Innovation Working Group (IWG).

The IWG was established to advocate for, identify, and support innovations to accelerate progress on the health targets included in the Millennium Development Goals. Through its flexible structure and extensive network of more than 180 members representing more than 80 institutions, the IWG has made the case for innovation as game-changer for maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH), whether science and technology, social, business, financial, or some combination of these.

In addition, the IWG has produced useful reports on sustainable business models for delivering health care, engagement guides for companies, and checklists for improved health care, the deployment of innovative medical devices in low-resource settings, nutrition for adolescent girls, mHealth and telemedicine, and innovative financial models. Importantly, the IWG is the primary platform for private-sector engagement in the EWEC initiative. Thanks are due to the support of the Government of Norway and the visionary leadership of Tore Godal.

Meanwhile, global partners were developing a pipeline of innovations in MNCH that did not previously exist. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the US Agency for International Development, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, and UK Aid partnered on Saving Lives at Birth, which has supported 91 innovations, including 77 at the proof-of-concept stage and 14 transitioning to scale. These partners and others have supported hundreds of MNCH innovations.

While most of these innovations are still at the proof-of-concept stage, there are some examples of innovations already transitioning to scale, such as the Odon device (innovation in assisted vaginal delivery) being scaled by BD and the Linda Jamii program (health care micro-insurance) developed by Changamka, Safaricom, and Britam.

The challenge now is to turn up the tap on this robust pipeline of MNCH innovations, unleash the social capital and expertise needed for scaling, and turn the trickle of innovations transitioning to scale into a torrent.

There are strong links and exciting complementarities between the IWG and the Innovation Countdown 2030 initiative, which will help to identify these promising MNCH innovations. While the IWG follows the EWEC initiative’s timeframe and focuses on MNCH, Innovation Countdown 2030 targets additional health domains including reproductive health and infectious and noncommunicable diseases, as well as MNCH. The outcomes of the Innovation Countdown 2030 initiative will greatly benefit efforts to scale innovation as the project looks to provide insights into which innovations will have the highest impact and to develop an innovation assessment framework.

A key strategy of the IWG going forward will be to contribute to a global marketplace for MNCH innovations, where innovations meet investors to help them transition to scale in a sustainable manner and achieve widespread impact. The IWG is uniquely positioned to contribute to such a platform. Its comparative advantage is the ability to bring its member network to invest in the most promising innovations in the MNCH pipeline. This will prove crucial in achieving the target set in the IWG strategy of demonstrating several scaling and scaled MNCH innovations within the coming two years.

Photo: PATH/Dunia Faulx.