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Sec. Clinton Launches Global Partnership To Improve Maternal, Child Health

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday announced the launch of a global partnership between USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the non-profit Grand Challenges Canada, the World Bank, and the government of Norway to reduce the number of deaths among mothers and infants in developing countries, the Globe and Mail reports.

The “Saving Lives At Birth: A Grand Challenge For Development” program plans to provide $14 million in the first round of grants and at least $50 million over five years “to find solutions for a disturbing trend: 150,000 mothers and 1.6 million infants die worldwide each year in the 72-hour window after a child is born. Another 1.2 million children are stillborn,” according to the newspaper. At the launch, the partnering organizations spoke of the need to bolster technology to reach women and children in the most remote regions of the world (Bradshaw, 3/9).

“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,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah said, according to a Saving Lives At Birth press release. “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,” Shah added (3/9).

“[W]e cannot solely rely on the traditional path of development – building roads, infrastructure, hospitals; training highly skilled doctors and nurses – because many of these deaths happen in the hardest to reach places, where there’s no reliable electricity or even clean water. We need new ideas that chart a different course,” Clinton said during the launch of the initiative, according to a State Department transcript from the event.

“Through the Savings Lives At Birth Grand Challenge, we’re calling on the inventors and innovators, creative thinkers, whoever they are and whatever their expertise, to help us get beyond the barriers,” Clinton continued. “We’re looking for dramatic impact that could increase access to healthcare for women and newborns by at least 50 percent. That is an ambitious goal, but that’s what makes it a Grand Challenge,” she added (3/9).

“Examples of the kinds of simple, low-cost solutions the group hopes to spur already exist in prototype form: a specially engineered sleeping bag that can substitute for an incubator, keeping an at-risk baby’s temperature at the right level; a mobile phone service that allows a mother to input her due date and receive regular advice by text message about how she should be preparing; or a business model for a low-cost, wide-reaching ambulance service,” the Globe and Mail reports. In December, the program will award “20 to 25 ‘seed’ grants at $250,000 each, and two to three $2.5-million grants designed to explore whether emerging ideas can be expanded to help large numbers of people,” according to the newspaper (3/9).

“Healthy mothers and newborns are the foundation of healthy and prosperous societies,” Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said at the launch, according to the Saving Lives At Birth release. “This initiative will speed up progress we’re already making – and will lead to new kinds of progress that we have yet to conceive,” she added (3/9).

A USAID infographic depicts how investments in women in developing countries, particularly in the areas of agriculture, health and education, can have greater social and economic effects.

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.