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Five years later: The Global Health Innovation Accelerator

December 12, 2019 by Jeff Bernson, Darin Zehrung, Bhavya Gowda, and Michelle Mulder

The Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA) transforms good ideas into new health products and services that address the health needs of resource-limited settings.

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Iyeza Express uses bicycle couriers to deliver medicines in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. Photo: Iyzea Health

Twice a month, Sizwe Nzime would ride his bicycle to the local health center as a favour to his grandmother. The distance was too far for his grandmother to walk, and she did not want to spend the money on transport to get there. Even when she did go to the health center, she would sometimes wait hours to get her medicine. Sizwe realised that many other families faced these same challenges. So, when his grandmother began to tell her friends about Sizwe’s deliveries, he saw an opportunity. For a small fee, he could deliver medicines to patients—helping ensure easy, inexpensive, and reliable availability of medicine to everyone, particularly those with chronic diseases.

His idea quickly took off. Sizwe turned two wheels and the love of his grandmother into a budding health care business. Called Iyeza Express, Sizwe and his business partner Siraaj Adams led the establishment of a team of bicycle couriers who deliver medications to patients in Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. However, as the business grew, Sizwe knew he couldn’t do it alone. Iyeza Express was selected to be part of the Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA) program, which provided him with the financial and technical support he needed to make Iyeza Express a success.

GHIA: Helping home-grown innovations thrive

GHIA began in 2014 when the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and PATH first partnered to support entrepreneurial and innovative organizations making a difference in the health of their communities—organizations like Iyeza Express.

GHIA identifies promising innovations from research organizations and companies using SAMRC and PATH’s networks, and then sends these innovations to a Technical Advisory Committee for review. Those innovations that meet the screening criteria join GHIA’s portfolio and have access to a range of support. Innovators are connected to scientific and technical expertise, funding, and networks of researchers, engineers, and business minds from both PATH and the SAMRC. This unique partnership helps local innovators break through the barriers to developing and introducing health technologies in South Africa and the African continent to ultimately accelerate the impact of these technologies.

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The Global Health Innovation Accelerator was launched in 2014. Photo: PATH/Kate Davidson

Together, GHIA and Iyeza Express developed a mobile platform that streamlines the pickup and delivery of medicines like antiretrovirals and metformin to elderly and home-based patients around Khayelitsha. By digitising the process, Iyeza could expand its customer base to other areas of Cape Town and begin looking for further opportunities throughout South Africa.

The motivation behind GHIA is simple: rooting innovation in the communities that can benefit from it the most. Driven, talented, and inspired people like Sizwe are in every community in South Africa—and around the world. They have a different perspective on the challenges communities face to accessing quality health care services and products. By expanding the opportunities to South African organisations and innovators, GHIA is bolstering Africa’s health innovation engine while making a positive impact on the health of communities.

Moving innovations from idea to scale

Iyeza Express is just one of the nine innovations that make up GHIA’s current portfolio. There are new medical devices, diagnostics, and digital health tools—all designed by local innovators working to address critical needs like maternal and child health, HIV, and non-communicable diseases.

These innovations are each at different stages of development and are each supported by a range of donors like the UK’s Department for International Development, the SAMRC, and the South African Department of Science and Innovation. GHIA is helping each overcome a different set of challenges towards market implementation.

For example, with the Umbiflow, GHIA is conducting a series of market assessments in key locations to help navigate regulations, policies, and procurement channels to ensure successful product introduction. In the case of the Ellavi UBT, GHIA continues to work with Sinapi Biomedical, a South African manufacturer, to bring this low-cost, high-quality product to low- and middle-income countries. Most recently, PATH and SAMRC have secured additional funding to support the introduction of some of these innovations so that women around the continent will have access to lifesaving products like the Ellavi UBT.

This year, the first innovation is graduating from GHIA’s portfolio. Iyeza Express has evolved into a successful, sustainable business—one that no longer requires GHIA’s direct guidance or assistance. It has already delivered more than 300,000 parcels, created 20 new jobs, and reduced the non-collection of chronic medications by 20 percent. Iyeza Express will continue to inspire entrepreneurs throughout South Africa and as they pursue the strong future ahead of them.

Five years: Just the start

Thanks to the common understanding, trust, and high standards that have developed among SAMRC, PATH, and the innovators, GHIA has achieved more in that last five years than any of its partners could have alone.

Through strong partnerships like GHIA, the global approach to innovation is moving closer to the communities, organizations, and entrepreneurs—like Sizwe—who experience barriers firsthand. We are moving to an age where innovation prioritizes countries and communities that have often been overlooked, where more effort is put behind the ideas with the best chance for a positive impact.

Both SAMRC and PATH recognize the critical role these promising innovations have to play in improving global health. GHIA will continue to seek out these ideas and build new relationships that move the country, the continent, and the world forward.

About PATH

PATH is a global organisation that works to accelerate health equity by bringing together public institutions, businesses, social enterprises, and investors to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges. With expertise in science, health, economics, technology, advocacy, and dozens of other specialties, PATH develops and scales solutions—including vaccines, drugs, devices, diagnostics, and innovative approaches to strengthening health systems worldwide. Learn more at http://www.path.org/.

About SAMRC

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is the leading local funder of health research in South Africa. The SAMRC funds and conducts research through a number of intra-mural and extra-mural research and grant programmes that are aimed at addressing South Africa’s burden of disease and key health priorities. These programmes cover the full range of research types, including epidemiology, health systems research, basic laboratory science, product development, clinical research and implementation science, and the organisation places an emphasis on translating this research into health impact by ensuring that it influences policy and practice and results in new or improved health solutions in the form of products and services. Learn more at http://www.samrc.ac.za.

Products within the GHIA portfolio receive support from a number of sources:

  1. The Ellavi uterine balloon tamponade is funded with UK aid from the British people. Previous funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The clinical studies have been funded by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) under the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) program with funds from the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
  2. The product development of GIFT is being funded by the SAMRC SHIP program with funds from the DSI, and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).
  3. Umbiflow™ was developed by the SAMRC and the CSIR under a grant from the former Innovation Fund, a DST-funded vehicle established to support local innovation. It was born out of the extensive research and development at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Stellenbosch University Medical School and Tygerberg Hospital. It is currently being funded by the SAMRC with funds from the DSI and the National Department of Health and Grand Challenges Canada.
  4. Health Connect is funded by the SAMRC with funds from the DSI and the National Department of Health, Johnson & Johnson Foundation, and Elma Philanthropies.
  5. The novel microbicide has been funded by the SAMRC SHIP program with funds from the DSI.
  6. The diabetes biomarker development has been funded through a Danish partnership and by the SAMRC with funds from the DSI and the National Department of Health
  7. Funding for PrCr has been provided by the US Agency for International Development Saving Lives at Birth, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck for Mothers and South African Medical Research Council under the Grand Challenges South Africa: All Children Thriving Programme grant to LifeAssay Diagnostics, and UK Department for International Development.
  8. Funding for fast-dissolving oxytocin has been provided by private foundations and individual donors to the Health Innovation Portfolio at PATH and from a grant from the Saving Lives at Birth partners: the United States Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the World Bank, and the UK Department for International Development.