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Collaborative research projects to tackle key health problems in the developing world have received a two million Canadian dollars (around US$2 million) injection — the first part of a US$20 million initiative.

The 19 grants were announced this week (29 June) through the 'Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health' programme which aims to address the most challenging health problems using innovative ideas from young researchers at Canadian institutions.

It will support research on practical and low-cost solutions for improving health in developing countries. Research includes fetal heart monitors that do not require electricity, a free online university for health sciences and a drug delivery method using tattoo needles to combat the parasitic disease leishmaniasis.

The rising stars programme is part of a non-profit global health organisation, Grand Challenges Canada, launched last May and funded by the government's foreign aid budget.

Most of the new grantees will collaborate with investigators in the developing world, said Peter Singer, chief executive officer of Grand Challenges Canada. "Scientists in low- and middle-income developing countries are the best people to solve their own problems," he told SciDev.Net, and so for future grants such North–South collaborations will be a requirement.

Overall, the rising stars programme will administer up to US$20 million through three cycles of competition. Eighteen months after the initial US$100,000 awards are given, the most promising projects will each receive an additional US$1 million to implement the solutions on a large scale.

The initiative is similar in approach to that of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Grand Challenges Explorations — which funds bold ideas as part of the Grand Challenges in Global Health.

But some experts view these schemes with caution.

Even Gates admitted in December they were "naive" when they began the scheme, thinking that "some [Grand Challenges ideas] would be saving lives by now, and it'll be more like in ten years from now."

Elizabeth Bradley, director of the Global Health Initiative at Yale University told SciDev.Net: "It's a novel enough idea but we don't have a lot of evidence yet that these are transformational."

"My main concern is the extremely limited amount of money for each [project] … These transformational changes require a real, long-term, sustained financial commitment, because they're not small problems," she said.

But Singer said the Canadian Rising Stars programme should produce quicker results because proposals are evaluated by scientific, business and social innovation experts. This "integrated innovation" strategy also increases the potential for sustainable and large-scale impacts, he added.

Haile Debas, a senior global health advisor at the University of California, San Francisco, said that "this grand challenge initiative is a great contribution to global health" as some of the 19 plans can be implemented quickly and will be culturally acceptable.

See below for a Grand Challenges Canada video about Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health programme:


See below for a Grand Challenges Canada video about the project on free health sciences university: