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Innovations that could save 1.2 million lives showcased
  • Innovations that could save 1.2 million lives showcased

Copyright: Simon Berry, ColaLife

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  • The innovations could help meet the MDG targets on maternal and child mortality

  • They include a phone-based medical sensor and an anti-diarrhoea kit

  • More needs to be done to widen the access to these innovations now

Ten innovations that could save the lives of 1.2 million children and mothers by the end of 2015 and help achieve the health-related Millennium Development Goals have been highlighted in a recent report by a US-based international NGO.

PATH worked with public and private institutions to produce a shortlist of promising low-cost health innovations and then used a modelling tool to estimate how many lives could be saved if they were implemented in developing nations.

The modelling is based on the innovations’ use in the 75 highest-burden countries for maternal, newborn and child death, says Joy Lawn, a paediatrician at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom, who was involved in developing the modelling tool.

“The 75 countries include all low and most middle income countries and over 95 per cent of all the world’s maternal newborn and child deaths,” says Lawn.

She says the PATH used data on the causes of deaths of children and mothers, and the coverage of each planned or ongoing health intervention, to help estimate the number of lives each innovation could save.

“The ten innovations are not equal in their impact,” Lawn tells SciDev.Net. “Some are already out there and starting to make a big difference, while others are still in pilot studies.”

Amie Batson, chief strategy officer at PATH, says the shortlist highlights “the power of innovations to make change”.

“We could have had 15 or 20, but we focused on what was going to be the most impactful and provided a sense to the community about the array of interventions,” Batson tells SciDev.Net.

“The key message here [in the report] is that more innovation is needed and it should be targeted to where it’s going to reach the poorest.”

Joy Lawn, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 

These innovations include ROTAVAC, a vaccine against the diarrhoea-causing rotavirus that was developed by a team led by the Indian government, and a diarrhoea-treatment-and-prevention kit (Kit Yamoyo)  designed by UK charity ColaLife.

Kit Yamoyo (meaning kit of life in Chichewa language) makes use of drink firm Coca-Cola’s distribution chain to reach remote areas in Zambia.

“I saw that you could get a Coca-Cola everywhere but you could not get medicine to treat a child with diarrhoea,” Simon Berry, founder and CEO of ColaLife, tells SciDev.Net. Kit Yamoyo is designed to sit in empty spaces between soft drink bottles in full crates.

Each kit includes oral rehydration salts, soap and an instruction booklet. Its packaging acts as the measuring device for the water used to make up the salts, a mixing and storage container with a lid and a cup to drink from.

The kit’s year-long trial in Zambia has just ended and the results will be shared  later this year at a conference in India.

Another shortlisted innovation is a medical sensor that can be attached to any mobile phone through its headphone socket and that draws its power from the phone. The Phone Oximeter measures blood oxygen levels using a light sensor placed on a patient’s finger.

After a free app has been downloaded to the mobile, the sensor displays its results on the phone screen.

“Its ability to non-invasively detect blood oxygen saturation level allows for diagnosis and treatment of people with pneumonia and other conditions, like pre-eclampsia in pregnant women,” says Tom Walker, CEO of LionsGate Technologies, a spin-off company from the University of British Columbia, Canada, that developed the first prototype.

Trials of the sensor are taking place in Bangladesh, India and Uganda.

The PATH’s report also calls for a focused commitment of resources and political will to provide broad access to these innovations where they are needed most.

“The key message here [in the report] is that more innovation is needed and it should be targeted to where it’s going to reach the poorest,” says Lawn.

Batson adds that by highlighting these innovations PATH has put more attention on what could be done. PATH is now working on partnerships with WHO and funding agencies “to rev-up the access” to these innovations and move them forward. 

Link to the report

Video by ColaLife on Kit Yamoyo

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