Local Innovation to Help Save Lives Globally
Innovative technologies or interventions that transform healthcare and save children’s lives in poorer countries often remain local. Without funding or a platform to expand, they can make a substantial difference in their immediate vicinity, but rarely have the chance to spread their wings.
This matters because preventable diseases such as malaria and diarrhoea are claiming fewer lives, but 6 million still die before the age of five each year. To give all children the chance to grow up healthy, successful local solutions must be given the opportunity to scale up and reach more children.
For the second year running, the GSK and Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award has sought to support sustainable interventions that are driven by the challenges and opportunities of particular communities, but could have real relevance elsewhere.
An independent judging panel – comprising health experts – had a wealth of ideas to choose from and a tough time selecting the winners. This year, the awards recognise ideas to help families address the dual challenge of income poverty and poor health; we hope the resources and platform the awards provide will give them a springboard for future expansion.
Like the bar-coded vaccination card, designed by a team at the University of Nairobi, which tracks vaccinations and rewards mothers with discounts on farm products. It is one of four innovations recognised this year and will receive $120,000.
Despite their knowledge of the importance of vaccinations in protecting children from preventable illnesses, many poor families in rural Kenya have to make the difficult choice between foregoing income and food and immunising their children. By providing agricultural discounts following vaccination, the University of Nairobi card means parents no longer have to choose.
At a roundtable convened in Kenya last week to discuss the winning innovation with policy makers, Dr Benson Wamalwa of the University of Nairobi described how the vaccination card team engaged local businesses to provide discounts to carers who had their children vaccinated.
The businesses use a smart phone to read the card’s barcodes to check if vaccinations have been given and then give the discount. As well as increasing vaccination coverage and supporting livelihoods, it is sustainable for the businesses involved. Dr Wamalwa explained: “They can still make a margin, but they are also making a difference, creating social capital.”
So far, the scheme has been successful. During a pilot in North-Western Kenya, vaccination rates increased from 55% to 95% and, having been able to access seeds and fertilisers to boost productivity, participating households saw an increase in crop yields on their small farms.
Not only has the vaccination card helped to increase immunisation rates in rural Kenya, protecting children against preventable illnesses, but households also enjoy better harvests which safeguard their nutrition and income. This innovation recognises that healthy lives and livelihoods are inextricably linked – and responds to that with a tool which advances both.
This success should be replicated across all of rural Kenya and wherever parents face the same choice. With the award, the team can expand the model. They plan to reach approximately 50,000 under-fives and 14,000 pregnant women over a two year period.
This type of sustainable intervention – which addresses the complex web of factors trapping families in poverty and ill health – has relevance for all of us, whether in business, government or civil society. And as the global community turns its attention towards sustainable development goals, it will become all the more pertinent.
Living Goods Uganda, has developed a similarly interconnected innovation. By recruiting and supporting networks of micro-entrepreneurs (like those pioneered by cosmetics company Avon), who travel door-to-door educating families on health and selling products such as malaria treatments, the scheme enhances access to healthcare and helps secure livelihoods. With its $120,000 award, Living Goods plans to help deploy more than 2,000 community health promoters.
Bringing grassroots entrepreneurialism to healthcare is a feature of ColaLife Zambia, which won $370,000. Using the same distribution networks as fast moving consumer goods, such as soft drinks, retailers are able to buy kits containing treatments for diarrhoea – among the biggest childhood killers in Zambia – and roll them out in remote communities. ColaLife now plans to expand the programme into other countries which have expressed an interest in its approach.
All four winners demonstrate the power of capitalising on and adapting existing technologies and processes – be it a supply chain already in action, or the ubiquitous mobile phone. ‘FoneAstra’, developed by South Africa’s University of Kwazulu-Natal in association with PATH and the University of Washington, shared the top spot winning $370,000. Its simple mobile phone app tracks and traces pasteurised donor breast milk for babies vulnerable to illness because they are unable to get sufficient milk from their mothers.
Clever yet simple innovations like this, which are scalable and can be adapted to different environments, deserve the opportunity, resource and platform to expand. Their ability to be responsive, to use the potential of technology, business and community to enhance lives and livelihoods, can make a difference – not just in developing countries but further afield too.