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Mother with child strapped to her back.
Bold PATH innovations win new support at 2013 Saving Lives at Birth Challenge. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

One of the most dangerous times for women and children is the period before, during, and after birth. Each year, there are 150,000 maternal deaths, 1.6 million neonatal deaths, and 1.2 million stillbirths—most in low-resource settings, where many women don’t have access to skilled care.

PATH works across communities, cultures, and health systems to find the gaps that take lives and cause harm, develop innovative solutions, and help them reach the women, children, and newborns who need them most.

This month, four promising solutions—two being developed by PATH and two with leading global health partners—won funding through the Saving Lives at Birth innovation challenge. The awards will provide the financial support necessary to move these potentially lifesaving ideas forward, helping to expand the portfolio of low-cost, high-impact solutions for women and children worldwide.

The Grand Challenge

Saving Lives at Birth, convened in 2011, is a partnership between the US Agency for International Development, the government of Canada, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the government of Norway, and the UK Department for International Development. Each year, the program generously awards grants for ideas that show promise for improving maternal and newborn health and nutrition in developing countries. Nominees are selected for proposing solutions to lower risk factors for mothers during pregnancy and labor, reduce critical conditions for newborns during birth, prevent stillbirth, and help mothers avoid health complications by spacing pregnancies farther apart.

Four winning innovations

Two of PATH’s four winning submissions propose delivery technologies that are simple to use, low-cost, and may provide valuable alternatives to needle injection. These new options have the potential to improve access to, and delivery of, key medicines to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

  • Sublingual oxytocin tablets. Injections of oxytocin are currently used to prevent and treat postpartum hemorrhage (uncontrolled bleeding), the leading cause of maternal death. The new tablet, designed to dissolve quickly under the tongue, could provide an effective, easy to store, and easy to use alternative in low-resource settings, where mothers have limited access to emergency obstetric care.
  • An alternative delivery method for magnesium sulfate. This new method allows health care workers to deliver the drug rectally, which could provide a simpler and less painful way to quickly administer this proven treatment to women suffering from preeclampsia or eclampsia, the second-leading cause of death for mothers and babies.

Other successful submissions are collaborations with top health partners:

  • The Bilistick. Underlying health issues in newborns can cause a condition called hyperbilirubinemia, which, if undetected and untreated, can lead to brain injury, hearing loss, or death. PATH is partnering with a company called Bilimetrix to further develop the Bilistick, a rapid, low-cost test that may improve detection and treatment and save lives in low-resource settings.
  • The uterine balloon tamponade. In Kenya and South Sudan, Massachusetts General Hospital, PATH, and partners are working to increase the use of an improved next-generation uterine balloon tamponade—a simple, effective device that can halt uncontrollable bleeding after birth in as few as five minutes.

Awardees were announced at the culmination of DevelopmentXChange, a three-day event held in Washington, DC that brought together participants in the Saving Lives at Birth contest for discussions, workshops, and training.

PATH is honored and thankful to join the 53 finalists and 22 winners, who hail from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Perhaps most notably, the 2013 Challenge drew more than a thousand entries from innovators around the globe—representing a dedicated and growing global community that is working to break barriers to save the lives of millions of women and children.

More information

Posted August 21, 2013. Updated August 30, 2013.