Health System Innovations that Save Children’s Lives

By Ramil Burden, GSK, and Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, Save the Children

Health System Innovations that Save Children’s Lives

What does ‘health system strengthening’ really mean? It is an aspiration we hear a lot. But what does it really take to make sure countries have the right resources in the right places to help people get the right health care when they need it – without falling into financial hardship as a result?

At GSK and Save the Children, we believe efforts to strengthen health systems must be multi-faceted. While single interventions such as fixing hospitals and clinics, providing vaccines or medicines, recruiting and training more health staff are important, doing them in isolation is not enough – we need to address all these things together and more, including how they are financed and governed.

That is why this year our Healthcare Innovation Award is focused on identifying innovations that have been proven to help increase access to healthcare for pregnant women, mothers and children under-five. As in previous years, the Award is on the lookout for innovations – generated in developing countries – that are reducing deaths among under-fives and have potential to scale up. The Award, which is one element of GSK and Save the Children’s five-year partnership aimed at helping save the lives of one million children, is designed to give these innovations the resources and profile to help expand their reach. In 2015, we are particularly searching for ideas that bolster healthcare systems.

Why focus on this theme? Fragile and under-resourced healthcare systems leave essential care out of reach for poor families. A recent report by the World Bank and the World Health Organization found that 400 million people do not have access to essential health services such as family planning and antenatal care; and 6% of people in low- and middle-income countries are tipped into or pushed further into extreme poverty because of health spending. If we can strengthen health systems, people will be healthy, better able to go to school and learn, work and prosper – this creates an environment in which we can all thrive.

Sadly, recent events have highlighted the critical need for all countries to have robust basic healthcare systems that can manage everyday health challenges, as well as pre-empt and control crises. Under-resourced healthcare systems were left vulnerable to the catastrophic outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. As countries fought to contain the epidemic, other diseases such as malaria went unchecked and mothers could not access basic services such as neonatal care. With health systems hobbled by the crisis, communities fragmented, schools closed, children were orphaned and economies effectively ground to a halt. The outbreak demonstrated that a health crisis can accelerate from being a national ‘health’ challenge to a global health risk as well as a threat to social and financial stability. It is in all our interests – from government to business and NGOs – to help make sure health systems are robust enough to respond to both the expected and the unexpected.

So what kind of innovations might help strengthen health systems and improve access to public healthcare for women and children? Well, we want to hear your ideas! But it could, for example, be an innovation that creates a mechanism to better train health workers to treat more diseases; or a device that helps communities gain better knowledge of how to improve health behaviours or access services of which they might not be aware.

Previous winners of the Healthcare Innovation Award are a good illustration of this. Friends of Sick Children Malawi, our first winner in 2013, developed a low-cost device to help babies breathe – thus enhancing the infrastructure of government hospitals. One of last year’s winners from the University of Nairobi developed a bar-coded vaccination card, which tracks vaccinations and rewards mothers with discounts on farm products. Despite their knowledge of the importance of vaccinations in protecting children, many poor families in rural Kenya have to make the difficult choice between foregoing income and food and immunising their children. The card helps families take advantage of immunisation programmes the government is providing.

Collaboration is integral to strengthening health systems: these are great examples of innovations that help underpin healthcare infrastructures and work hand-in-hand with public health systems, ultimately helping more people to access essential care. This year, we want to find more such innovations and give them a springboard to scale up. Progress made by previous winners shows this is possible – ZiDi, a mobile health management system developed in Kenya and a 2013 winner, has been adopted by the country’s Ministry of Health. It is now working to roll out ZiDi in 5,000 public health facilities, giving the innovation real reach.

So the search is on for other innovations from developing countries that are already helping to save children’s lives by strengthening healthcare systems. If you’ve got an innovation – or know of another organisation with an innovation and the vision to take it further – we want to hear about it. The Healthcare Innovation Award could help take your idea to the next level – and contribute to both stronger health systems and stronger communities.

Find out more about the Health Care Innovation Award.

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