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8 Incredibly Effective Ways To Save Children From Preventable Deaths

From traveling medical clinics in 4×4-vehicles to cheap malaria drugs, only one of these plans will win an inaugural $1 million prize from rock star entrepreneur Ted Caplow.

How many children’s lives can be saved with $1 million? That’s the question posed to the eight finalists in the inaugural Caplow Children’s Prize, the biggest humanitarian prize for saving the lives of children. The finalists, which range from large organizations (Doctors Without Borders) to small (World Medical Fund), all have different ideas about the best way to save lives. Most are probably effective But only one will take the $1 million.

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Child mortality is one of those heartbreaking topics that’s almost too difficult to think about. The trend of childhood deaths is moving in a positive direction–in 2012, approximately 6.6 million children worldwide died before age five, compared to over 12 million in 1990–but many of the deaths that still occur are preventable.


For Ted Caplow, an engineer and entrepreneur who holds the patent for the “vertically integrated greenhouse” and founded urban farming startup BrightFarms and documentary film group Fish Navy Films, the topic of child mortality hits close to home. In 2012, Caplow’s wife gave birth to triplets, who were born prematurely and spent the first month of their lives in intensive care. “We were struck by the amount of resources applied to save the lives of my kids,” he says.

Caplow, a generous philanthropist, decided to put some money towards the problem. The first Caplow Children’s Prize (there will be more in the future, Caplow says) has the goal of saving as many children’s lives as possible for $1 million.

“In broad strokes, that’s the only pre-conceived constraint that I had. I didn’t insist that it needed to be in the developing world, and I didn’t even insist that it be a medical intervention,” he says. All of the finalists are working in the developing world, however–it’s just cheaper to save kids in developing countries because the interventions are more basic.

Below, the finalists, selected from 565 proposals in 70 countries:

  • A plan from the University of Malawi College of Medicine to expand access to the Pumani bCPAP, an affordable alternative to the pricey device commonly used to alleviate respiratory distress. “This proposal shows that basic, hands-on engineering is still very important in increasing quality of life around the world,” Caplow explains in an email.

  • The World Medical Fund’s proposal to develop traveling medical clinics in 4×4-vehicles for kids. In addition to healthcare, the clinics would provide public health education on topics like child nutrition and HIV/AIDS. Caplow believes the proposal is “a refreshingly straightforward approach to delivering basic services to populations living hours from the nearest medical center.”

  • Muso Ladamunen’s plan to mobilize Community Healthcare workers in Mali, reaching 85% of kids located in rural parts of the country within 48 hours of getting sick.

  • An idea from Plan International Burkina Faso to offer cheap anti-malarial drugs to kids in Burkina Faso–and to train community health workers to treat sick kids and educate caregivers. “If successful, the implications could be broad for malaria control in certain regions–it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution however, because malaria is a very complex problem with different infection patterns and timing in different parts of Africa,” Caplow notes.

  • Dr. Anita Zaidi’s plan to combat malnutrition in Karachi, Pakistan through pre- and post-birth home visits from community health workers, vaccinations, and supplies of nutritional supplements to mothers and children. This is the only individual finalist, as opposed to an organization.

  • A Doctors Without Borders proposal for vaccinations, nutritional supplements, and primary care to young children in Mali.

  • RISE International’s proposal to build 60 clean water wells at schools in rural Angola, where quality water sources are scarce. “One attractive feature of this application is the way their proposal piggybacks upon and leverages their existing network of over 100 schools that they have built with their donors funds,” explains Caplow.

  • AMOR’s plan to expand the Neonatal Department at Afghanistan’s Afshar Hospital–specifically, by adding more infant beds, monitors, CPAP machines, pediatricians, and nurses.

Caplow isn’t the sole decision maker in the process; he’s being helped by a panel of experts, including doctors from the University of Miami Department of Pediatrics and Harvard School of Public Health. But he’s taking his responsibility seriously. Many of the finalists claim that they can save up to 1,000 kids with $1 million, which makes the decision incredibly difficult. “That means I’m going to pick one of these and save those 1,000 kids, but those other thousands of kids are left waiting,” says Caplow. “It is a kind of staggering responsibility.”

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This won’t be Caplow’s only prize for people with ambitious ideas. He’s a big believer in the power of crowdsourcing to solve problems. “The open competition is powerful because you bring in ideas outside the box, outside the status quo,” he says. In the next few years, he plans to launch a green technology prize along the same lines as the Children’s Prize.

The winner of the Caplow Children’s Prize will be announced in December.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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