A collaboration between PATH and the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) has established an innovative health centre to fast-track the development of a number of sustainable health technologies that are aimed specifically at reducing maternal and child deaths in the country and in low-income communities in particular.
The recently established Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA) will connect scientists, technology experts and entrepreneurs, who will come together to roll out new medical devices, diagnostics and health tools to reach the most vulnerable women and children in South Africa. Given the increasingly high rate of maternal and child mortality in the country, the centre’s focus will be to prevent stillbirths and neonatal deaths with new technologies. Members will provide funds and the centre will serve as a hub for global partners, innovators, investors and entrepreneurs to share their resources and expertise.
The GHIA is unique in that it seeks to strengthen home-grown innovation, in order to bring health products and solutions to market quicker and to train local entrepreneurs in order to develop a “robust South African product-manufacturing pipeline”. A variety of innovators and experts will mentor the next generation of health technology innovators, while working on developing cutting edge responses to age-old health problems.
The GHIA has four core functions: to identify current health care needs (at the primary level) where new solutions would have the most impact; to screen new technologies currently in development to identify promising health alternatives; to provide support to innovators and entrepreneurs in the realization of their technologies and ideas; and to “strengthen the capacity of local commercialization partners to own and sustainably deliver” the products that are developed. Current products in development include non-invasive anemia screening device and an affordable uterine balloon tamponade. Both of these products respond to the issue of post-partum hemorrhaging, which is a leading cause of maternal death in the Global South.
South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where child mortality rates are rising. According to IRIN News, the South African health system, in its current form, is part of the problem. Mothers are discharged from hospitals only 6 hours after giving birth, which doesn’t give them enough time to initiate breastfeeding. Additionally, formula has been aggressively marketed and counselling on the benefits of breastfeeding is also lacking. A more widespread barrier has been the fear of transmitting HIV from an infected mother to a newborn through breastfeeding, which relates to the rise in formula use as an alternative. Immediate breastfeeding (one hour after birth) has been proven to be one of the surest methods of reducing rates of infant mortality by providing instant nutrition to newborns. Children breastfed within the first few months of their lives are up to six-times more likely to survive past the age of five. Responding to this, the GHIA is also developing a low-cost pasteurizer for banking human milk, which will be made available to new mothers.
The GHIA centre was made possible by the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIPs) unit (a collaboration between PATH and South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology) and the SAMRC. Since 2011, PATH has invested upwards of $3.7 million in South African health technology. SHIP will also be funding around $30 million for early-stage product development. The GHIA will also pursue investments from donors as well as private and public sector investors. While the current scope of the technology hub is centered on maternal and child health in South Africa, the centre hopes to support the adoption of similar innovations into other healthcare systems in the region, and across the continent.
For more information on the GHIA and SHIP, click here.
To learn more about PATH and its involvement in health care in other parts of Africa, visit their website.
For more on how the SAMRC is focusing their efforts on innovative technology in its R&D watch a video here.
For a news report on the GHIA, see the video below.