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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah address the finalists at DevelopmentXChange event. Photo: USAID

PATH's innovative ideas to protect the lives of mothers and their babies around the time of childbirth were among finalists presented recently at the Saving Lives at Birth DevelopmentXChange, an event aimed at addressing the causes of maternal and newborn deaths in poor, rural settings worldwide.

Hosted by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the exchange is part of Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, a program led by USAID in partnership with the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and the World Bank. The program is seeking solutions to three major challenges in rural, resource-poor communities: lack of appropriate medical technologies; shortages of trained, motivated, and well-equipped health staff; and insufficient knowledge among many caregivers.

PATH's proposals included ideas to make childbirth more hygienic and to avert the loss of mothers to postpartum hemorrhage, excessive bleeding that can occur during and after childbirth. A total of $14 million will be awarded to 19 proposals to support their advancement.

US Government support for science and technology

Speaking at the event, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for all of the proposals to continue, confirming the US government’s support for research and development. “To the 600 entrants all over the world and to the 77 finalists and the eventual winners my message is the same," she said. "Please keep going with these ideas. Figure out ways, and we will try to help you figure out ways to make them scalable, sustainable, deliverable interventions.”

USAID administrator Rajiv Shah emphasized the power of innovation. “To make advances in maternal and newborn health, our real opportunity lies in harnessing the power of innovation—scientific, technological, and behavioral—to build a continuum of invention from bench to bush,” said Shah. “Innovations in products and the platforms we use to deliver them will allow us to expand our reach to women who will likely never set foot inside a hospital.”

Grand Challenges for Development is just one component of USAID’s commitment to innovation in global health. The agency views innovation, including research and development for new tools, as critical to achieving its global health mission. Innovation is also a key component of the cross-agency Global Health Initiative. Recently, USAID has elevated the role of innovation through its new Office of Science and Technology. The agency has shown a longstanding commitment to research and development through its Development Innovation Ventures program.

Congress, too, has shown support for global health innovation. In June, US Representatives Albio Sires (D-NJ) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) introduced the 21st Century Global Health Technology Act, a bill that aims to promote transparency and accountability by USAID and provides legislative authority for some of the agency's work in research and development. The bill calls for these activities to be aligned with a national development strategy for global health technologies.

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Updated on August 8, 2011.