In Africa, pregnant women are 135 times more likely to die during childbirth than their counterparts in developed Western economies. That's a statistic that a new $50 million initiative focusing on maternal health and medical innovation for women is looking to change.
Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development was launched yesterday  by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank, USAID, and others. The program will seek out and fund budding innovations  in maternal health around the world--innovations that save mothers and their babies in hard-to-reach, remote places.
Over the next five years, the initiative will invest $50 million dollars in sustainable, potentially high-growth enterprises. The types of advances the challenge hopes to fund  include simpler or portable technologies for newborn resuscitation, feeding, warming; using new technologies to to improve health care delivery in rural areas; and using mass communication programs to help women better understand what services they need and how they can get them.
"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 USAID Administrator Rajiv 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."
Innovation has emerged as a central theme for USAID in recent months, in line with President Obama's emphasis on innovation since his State of the Union address. Last October, USAID announced the groundbreaking Development Innovation Ventures , meant to identify and invest in "high-risk, high-return projects with scalable social outcomes. Saving Lives at Birth is one of the first sector-specific initiatives since that announcement was made.
"This new initiative is a great opportunity to bring more innovation to our shared goal of saving more mothers and babies in the poorest countries," said Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. "Our aim will be to leverage these pilots and take promising innovations to scale in order to make a real difference in poor people's lives. This requires working in close partnership with governments and national stakeholders."
Model and maternal health champion Christy Turlington is also on board, adding some celebrity glow. "Confidence, generosity, respect=empowerment. Empowerment is every woman's birth right," Turlington tweeted yesterday .
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