The power of innovation: ending preventable deaths of mothers and children

Guest Global Health, HIV & AIDS, Malaria, Poverty-Related and Neglected Diseases

We believe in the power of innovation. Global health innovation to end diseases of poverty – causing the deaths of millions every year – is one of the key issues that we at DSW work on. We have some exciting news to announce later in the year on this, but for now we are delighted to host a guest editorial from our partners at PATH. Heather Ignatius and Tara Herrick write about recent modelling work done by PATH, which reveals 11 emerging tools and approaches that could save more than 6 million lives by 2030. Read on!

A goal once thought impossible, bringing an end to preventable deaths of mothers and children, is now a target that many experts agree is achievable. In fact, it is enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goals, which 193 nations signed on to last year.

However, we know that the current rate of change—although improving—is not yet fast enough to realise the global vision. Innovative tools and approaches are critical to step up progress over the next 15 years.

Quantifying innovation’s potential

To understand and quantify the power of innovation, PATH explored how 11 emerging innovations could dramatically accelerate progress in maternal and child survival. We worked with the Johns Hopkins University and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to bring together data, impact modeling expertise, and product development experience in an effort to shed light on an under-examined but critical piece of the solution for ending needless deaths.

Specifically, we modelled the contribution of selected emerging innovations within the goals set by USAID for its 24 targeted countries in its maternal and child survival report Acting on the Call. The 11 innovations we modelled were identified through the Innovation Countdown 2030 initiative, which crowd-sourced promising global health innovations and narrowed them through expert input. The innovations range from new approaches to increase access to injectable contraceptives, to new devices for water treatment, to low-tech innovations like Kangaroo Mother Care.

power of innovation

To get preventable child and maternal deaths down to zero, we must develop new approaches and tools alongside expanding coverage of existing approaches. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

So what did we find?

  1. The analysis estimates that more than 6 million lives could be saved by 2030 if these 11 innovations are advanced in 24 countries, including:
    • 2.4 million newborns (less than 1 month old),
    • 3.7 million children under five (1-59 months), and
    • nearly 500,000 mothers.
  2. In 2030, when the innovations are scaled at the highest level, these 11 innovations would contribute to a notable share of USAID targets for lives saved: 15 percent of the child lives, 12 percent of the newborn lives, and 18 percent of the maternal lives.
  3. While the overall number of lives saved is lower for mothers (because relatively fewer moms die around the world every year than children and newborns), the impact of the innovations is the highest in this analysis.

Most impactful innovations

The largest impacts in lives saved are related to new products to improve access to family planning, namely injectable contraceptives like Sayana® Press, which can prevent unintended pregnancy and drastically reduce deaths of women, newborns and children.

Other notable innovations were new respiratory rate monitors and pulse oximeters that make it easier and faster to detect pneumonia—a leading cause of death in children under 5. Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), also rose to the top. KMC is a simple approach of prolonged skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding that has proven to prevent newborn deaths in settings without sophisticated equipment.

The power of innovation: implications for policy and programming

power of innovation

Sayana® Press is one product that may make injectable contraception more widely available to women in low-resource settings, especially in remote areas. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

Ultimately, this analysis supports the notion that global health leaders must focus greater attention on identifying, developing, and scaling innovations with potential for significant impact. The report suggests USAID will need to establish a more deliberate approach to advancing innovative products and approaches with the greatest potential for savings lives in target countries.

But donor-led initiatives are not the only solution. The global health landscape is changing and we see health innovation coming from new and unexpected places. As government health strategies are set, leaders in low- and middle-income countries could have greater decision-making power over the innovations that are developed and scaled in their countries. The private sector is also playing a bigger role. More than ever, we see the powerful potential of multi-sector partnerships to deliver innovative solutions for better global health.

To get preventable child and maternal deaths down to zero, we must advance new approaches and tools alongside expanding coverage of existing approaches. But progress will be limited without a focused strategy and further commitment to investing in innovation. Global development partners should read the report to better understand the immense potential for innovation to save the lives of women and children.


This blog article originally appeared on PATH’s blog, here.

Heather Ignatius is a senior advocacy and policy officer with the Advocacy and Public Policy Program at PATH. Tara Herrick is a market analytics officer in the Market Dynamics department at PATH.

Find out more about DSWs’s work on global health, and how we can harness the power of innovation, here.