Through PATH’s new Global Health Innovation Hubs, we are collaborating with local partners and governments—starting in South Africa—to make sure that locally originated innovation translates into a healthier future for women and children everywhere. Dr. Anurag Mairal, a leader of this effort for PATH, explains.
In many of the 70-plus countries where PATH works, entrepreneurs and innovators are conceiving and refining much-needed health technologies. But what’s often missing is the technical expertise to move these solutions to market through a complex process that includes product development, evidence building, manufacturing, and market introduction. This is especially an issue for innovations designed to improve the lives of the poorest and most isolated communities. As a result, too many lifesaving ideas never make it from a smart concept to lifesaving tools.
PATH’s newly launched Global Health Innovation Hub effort is closing the gap. This week we launch the Global Health Innovation Accelerator Initiative (GHIA) in South Africa, and we are preparing to establish a second hub in India. The idea is to combine PATH’s almost 40 years of experience in selecting and advancing high-impact technologies for low-resource settings; the capabilities of local entrepreneurs, academics, business leaders, and others; and the resources and political will of governments; in order to put more innovative technologies and solutions into the hands of the people who need them.
We think innovation hubs can change the trajectory of health for women and children in communities with the greatest needs—and that there has never been a better time. Here are four reasons why:
- We’ve reached a historic moment in global health.
The world is on the cusp of a sea change in how—and where—health technologies are developed. With the right support, countries worldwide have the economic drive, top-notch research and engineering resources, universities, companies, and entrepreneurs to bring their best ideas to life. Local innovation hubs meet the clear and urgent need to coordinate and accelerate that potential.
- We can save millions of lives—if we act now.
We know that innovation saves lives. Between 1990 and 2012, global efforts cut the number of children dying before the age of 5 by half. And a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation showed that 4.2 million fewer children died in 2013 compared with 1990 as a result of new vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, and other innovations.
The catch? Many of the technologies that made that possible were already in development 15 years ago. We have a tremendous opportunity speed progress and save millions more lives in the next 15 years. But to do so, we must accelerate more locally appropriate health technologies, more quickly. Strengthening local innovation ecosystems is crucial to that effort.
- Innovation hubs are a smart investment.
First, accelerating technologies that improve the health of women is always a best bet. When women thrive, their children, families, communities, and countries thrive.
Second, innovation hubs can leverage investments already made in research and early development. By creating a clear path between these early activities and the crucial later-stage work of regulation, testing, and introduction, the hubs help early investments grow into useable products—unlocking their full potential and saving lives.
In South Africa, for example, the GHIA is working with local entrepreneurs and a US-based multinational to advance a device that can help health care workers diagnose and treat anemia (low blood iron) quickly, painlessly, and without a blood test. The investment in this technology, which is available and demonstrated to work in the developed world, is being leveraged by the local organization to create a product with appropriate features and price point for low-income communities in South Africa and beyond—saving more mothers and babies from life-threatening anemia-related complications in childbirth.
- Innovation hubs strengthen local systems, economies, and workforces.
Innovation hubs strengthen the national systems necessary to produce lifesaving technologies long into the future; support local and national economies; and create a legacy of investment in the health of vulnerable women and children. In addition, technologies developed and produced in hub countries have the potential to help people not only locally, but throughout their regions—increasing our impact exponentially while creating new markets and entrepreneurial ecosystems. Finally, as our network of hubs grows, countries can deepen their reach and impact by sharing expertise and resources.
The Global Innovation Hub project promotes a new paradigm in global health—one that shifts the nexus of innovation to the people who know their country’s needs best: its communities, entrepreneurs, and institutions. By tapping their resources and insight, the Hubs will strengthen the link between local needs and technology development, increase access to lifesaving technologies, improve social and economic conditions, and give millions more women, children, and families the chance to thrive.