For fighting diseases of poverty, things go better with innovation

Innovation is the latest buzz word used by almost everyone for almost everything, in the tech world as well as aid and development. But just because it's over-used and vague doesn't mean it's mere rhetoric. Innovation is critical to making progress against poverty, disease and inequity.
ColaLife
ColaLife

Packaging life-saving oral dehydration solution and zinc with bottles of Coca-Cola is one of a number of promising innovations focused on averting maternal death and improving child health.

Innovation is the latest buzz word used by almost everyone for almost everything, in the tech world as well as aid and development.

But just because it’s over-used and vague doesn’t mean it’s mere rhetoric. Innovation is critical to making progress against poverty, disease and inequity.

At last week’s UN General Assembly confab in New York City, Seattle-based PATH released a list of breakthrough innovations. The list of ten was meant to provide encouragement as more attention is drawn to the approaching deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015.

Highlights include using chlorohexidine to prevent infections in newborns and a compress suit that can slow postpartum hemorrhage, saving a mother’s life.

“Innovation is about doing things that are better, smarter and more affordable. This allows you to change how you are doing business to have greater impact, ” said PATH’s chief strategy officer Amie Batson.

Batson says that the status quo is not going to get countries across the MDG finish line. ORS and zinc, for example, are proven ways to treat children with diarrhea and fend off death. Kit Yamoya’s design to fit with soda bottle containers provides a way to improve distribution.

It is important that they are able to reach more people in order to ensure that the maximum impact is achieved. It is an idea that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon explains in the introduction

“Identifying these technologies, however, is not enough on its own to save lives. We also need political will and financial commitment,” says Ban.

“More than a decade of progress tells me that further dramatic improvements are within reach, and I look forward to continuing to work with all partners to finish the job and build the future we want.”

PATH hopes that it can move the many ideas waiting on the “parking lot of innovation” so more people are reached and the innovations are more effective.

The Sayana Press delivers a contraceptive shot for women through a small easy-to-use pre-filled needle. Community health workers can easily carry and deliver the injection to women. It is important because they may be the only health contact for a family.

In parts of Ethiopia, families almost exclusively access healthcare through community healthworkers. Making sure that they have the right tools for families can make all the difference.

Something like the Backpack Plus can ensure that the community healthworkers have the right tools at their fingertips. However, it needs scale to work effectively, says Batson.

The price of it is dependent on how many people use it. Quick high distribution means lower prices which in turn makes it easier to sell or give away.

PATH sees its role as raising the attention for the innovations and ensuring that they make it forward through the value chain. It is not donors and NGOs that are the sole drivers, government has a place in the spread of the innovations.

“Governments need to be driving partners to focus on the data as to what is killing mothers.,” said Batson.

Driving the innovations into use will ensure that avoidable maternal and child deaths are eliminated.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.