MEDICAL

Life-saving innovations

Dr Phil Mjwara of the DST
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The South African Medical Research Council's Global Health Innovation Accelerator will drive development of devices and diagnostics to improve maternal, neonatal and child health.

South Africa faces high rates of maternal and child mortality as well as HIV, tuberculosis, and other communicable diseases. The National Department of Health’s strategic plan calls for reducing preventable child deaths and ensuring all mothers have access to antenatal, birth and postpartum care.

Aiding Government’s plan, the newly launched Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA), a joint project between the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) and international non-profit organisation PATH, will speed up the development and introduction of sustainable, high-impact health technologies that can save the lives of vulnerable women and children in South Africa and beyond.

The Director-General of Department of Science and Technology (DST), Dr Phil Mjwara, says he is excited by the prospects that this new partnership and GHIA will bring to the South African health research and innovation landscape, particularly in relation to maternal and child health.

“We are confident that the GHIA would enable us to tap into PATH’s extensive experience in managing the challenges that prevent technologies from reaching global markets, and enable health innovations to reach people like women and children who need them the most,” says Mjwara.

According to Glenda Gray, president of the SAMRC, South Africa needs to find innovative solutions that will save the lives of women during pregnancy and childbirth. “Interventions that prevent unnecessary stillbirths and neonatal deaths are critical as we endeavour to drive down mortality in children in Africa. The SAMRC is committed to this bold step to help find medical solutions that are game-changing.”

The GHIA aims to fast-track the most promising technologies to address the health needs of low-resource communities. It will connect the scientific and technical expertise, funding and networks of global partners with local scientists and innovators to accelerate product development and introduction. The partnership will initially focus on advancing medical devices, diagnostics and health tools for women and children. The GHIA will support those goals by catalysing investment in the best products and ensuring they reach the most vulnerable communities and people in low-resource settings across Africa and around the globe.

“The GHIA promotes a new paradigm for global health: tapping innovation wherever it is found to accelerate health solutions,” said Dr Ayo Ajayi, PATH’s Vice-President of International Development.

“What makes the GHIA unique is its focus on strengthening homegrown innovation to quickly bring new products to market. It combines South Africa’s innovation, expertise, and research capacity with PATH’s nearly 40 years of experience in breaking through barriers that can prevent lifesaving technologies from reaching those who need them,” Ajayi says.

SHIP has established itself as a key enabler in South Africa's bio-economy through funding for early-stage product development, committing more than US$30 million to a number of programmes.

Innovative tools, technologies, and approaches are transforming global efforts to improve the lives of women and children, driving significant reductions in maternal and child mortality. Still, an estimated 6.3 million children died before their fifth birthdays in 2013, and no less than 293 000 women died from pregnancy-related causes, most of which were preventable. To build the pipeline of innovative health tools, the GHIA aims to attract new investments from donors, public and private-sector investors, and others, and to leverage the capacity and technical expertise of new partners to drive transformative technologies from concept to widespread use.

(Credit: SA MRC)

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