Abir Abdullah / Save the Children

Inspiring Innovation: Healthcare Innovation Award

By Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi and Francis West, Save the Children

Inspiring Innovation: Healthcare Innovation Award

The hospitals and clinics of the developing world might seem an unexpected source of innovation at first glance. However it is increasingly becoming evident that the limited resources available in these environments challenge those involved in the delivery of healthcare services to find more creative solutions to the problems they face. Where there is potential for these inventive ideas to save the lives of more children around the world, they must be recognised and supported to grow.

While smaller businesses often offer innovation and agility that can often struggle to surface in much larger organisations, they lack the resource to take these innovations to scale. Multinationals can use their resources and expertise to harness novel approaches and help good ideas get to scale. This is the rationale behind the Save the Children and GSK Healthcare Innovation Award, which has awarded $1 million to organisations that have achieved innovations in healthcare that have proven to be successful in reducing child deaths in developing countries – including the award-winning innovation in Malawi.

The project in Malawi shows us how a simple and affordable idea can have a dramatic impact on saving childrens’ lives. The life-saving kit, called a ‘bubble’ Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or ‘bCPAP’, is used to help babies in respiratory distress, which is often caused by acute respiratory infections like pneumonia. CPAP devices use air pressure to keep patients airways open, and as there are few wall-mounted air supplies in Malawi hospitals, the newly innovated bCPAP air pump works on its own. Plus it is made of durable materials that are inexpensive and easy to repair. A similar version is already commonly used in developed countries where they cost at least $6,000 each. This innovative low-cost ‘bubble’ CPAP adaptation can be produced for approximately $400.

The award demonstrates how new partnerships can help the world find affordable solutions to old problems faced by the world’s poorest people. The organisation behind the innovation and recipients of a $400,000 share of the $1 million award is Friends of Sick Children, Malawi – a partnership between the paediatric department of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies in the United States and the University of Malawi College of Medicine. The funding from the Healthcare Innovation Award will enable Friends of Sick Children to expand access to bCPAP to Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa.

It is fitting that GSK and Save the Children are rewarding such innovation, given the pioneering nature of their partnership, which has aims to help save one million children’s lives. Given that progress towards neonatal deaths has been slow, this should contribute to addressing this challenge in Africa. Our ambition to help save a million lives will only be realised by going beyond the traditional NGO-private sector partnership model based on fundraising to harnessing and scaling up the complementary skills and expertise that sit within our respective organisations.

In practice this means some very real changes to our respective organisational cultures and approach to working with partners that might initially feel quite unusual. To ensure this partnership leads to maximum potential benefit for children, Save the Children will have a seat on a new paediatric research and development board that will be tasked with accelerating progress on life-saving interventions for children under 5 as well as identifying ways to ensure the widest possible access to medicines. Furthermore Save the Children staff have been working in close collaboration with a GSK product team on the development and delivery of a low-cost nutritious food for low-income consumers. The costs of these core business initiatives are being absorbed by the relevant commercial department within GSK ensuring the emergence, over time, of a business model that could transform access to healthcare and nutritious food in the developing world.

By harnessing our respective strengths and challenging our traditional ways of working we hope we will contribute solutions to a world where children do not die from preventable causes. This is not to say that we are blind to some of the cynicism that has met the announcement of this partnership, with a number of critics questioning GSK’s motives. This scepticism miscalculates the value that Save the Children’s child health expertise and knowledge of marginalised communities in the developing world can bring to GSK’s understanding of its markets. There is nothing untoward about this. If more businesses want to understand the situation of the most vulnerable children in the world and bring that knowledge to their decision-making processes we are comfortable supporting that. Furthermore as with the GSK partnership, we are interested in harnessing the voice of business as part of joint advocacy to ensure child mortality and other binding constraints to children surviving, thriving and growing up to realise their potential remains high in the post-2015 framework.

This does not mean that our organisations will always agree on everything. From Save the Children’s perspective we will endeavour to encourage these types of behaviour across all areas of the business, particularly in relation to patents, pricing and competition and the importance of healthcare being free for the world’s poorest at the point of use. Equally, we expect GSK will challenge our assumptions in areas such as service delivery and behaviour change communication. Inevitably, these issues will lead to robust discussions, but this dialogue will ultimately be to the benefit of the partnership, guided by the firm belief that we can achieve more for the world’s most vulnerable people by working together, rather than apart.

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