Tech4MH: Making the World a Safer Place to Be a Mother

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Written by: USAID’s Bureau for Global Health

Can you imagine a world where all mothers give birth safely?  At the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), we are working to make that vision a reality.  We are re-imagining development by promoting innovative and catalytic ideas, technologies, and approaches to overcome long-standing and entrenched problems. Many of these ideas take what works and creatively apply it to areas of the world with limited access to electricity, transportation challenges, low literacy, and health worker shortages. Often, with significant breakthroughs in innovation, once insurmountable development challenges can become solvable through creative and high-impact solutions.

One such problem is maternal mortality.  Every year more than 287,000 women die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth. USAID’s Bureau of Global Health supports a variety of projects promoting innovative maternal health technologies.

Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development – a partnership among USAID, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, and DFID – calls on the brightest minds across the globe to develop groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant mothers and newborns during the vulnerable hours surrounding birth. After three rounds of awards, the portfolio supports the development of 59 novel technology, service delivery, and demand-stimulation solutions for use in low resource settings. Some of the scientific and technological maternal health advancements include studies to advance the development of a low-cost, non-refrigerated inhaled form of oxytocin to prevent post-partum hemorrhage (Monash University); a “solar suitcase” to provide a sustainable power source to medical providers ensuring their ability to deliver life-saving procedures 24-hours a day (We Care Solar, in partnership with AMREF); and development of an operative and realistic emergency obstetric simulator and simulation-based training on emergency C-sections (Operative Experience).

Through mHealth for Safe Deliveries in Zanzibar, Tanzania, as a part of a larger USAID-funded program, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds D-tree International to incentivize traditional birth attendants to refer women to deliver in facilities, allowing women the ability to reach emergency health services in a timely manner. Through a two-pronged mobile phone-based referral system, TBAs are able to identify high-risk women for referral. Next, through a partnership with Zantel, funds for emergency transportation are transferred to the TBA. For each referral, the TBA visits the home of the patient, accompanies the woman to a health facility, and provides follow-up care. TBAs receive compensation for each referral upon completion of follow-up care. The program has increased facility-based deliveries to over 70% from a baseline of 40% and is being scaled-up in Zanzibar.

As a member of the UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities, the USAID-funded Accelovate project, implemented by Jhpiego, is working to increase access and improve quality of priority maternal health drugs: oxytocin, misoprostol, and magnesium sulfate. Although these drugs have been used for years to treat the top two causes of maternal mortality, they have not achieved expected impact due to various shared and unique challenges.  One major shared challenge pertains to the quality of the drug. To address the substandard potency of oxytocin found in many low resource settings, Accelovate is working to put this temperature-sensitive drug into countries’ cold chain management systems. Additionally, there is the need for greater access to those quality drugs. Because countries tend to procure products from vetted sources, Accelovate encourages production of high quality misoprostol and magnesium sulfate by helping manufacturers navigate the WHO pre-qualification process.

These are just a few examples of the breadth and depth of the work of partners developing and promoting maternal health technologies. However, despite progress, challenges remain. While innovative ideas abound, translating these ideas to safe, feasible, accessible, high-quality, demanded, and low-cost products remains difficult. Meanwhile, women are dying in childbirth. While not every innovation will succeed, support for novel technologies is critical to achieve maternal health advances.  As part of USAID Forward, we are working to embrace partnerships, invest in innovation, and demand a relentless focus on results.  Current and future innovations help ensure that eventually no mother dies a death that could have been prevented.

Request for Applications (RFA) for Saving Lives at Birth Round 4 is now live! We are accepting applications until March 27. The RFA is found here:

Learn more about USAID’s work in global health:

Tech4MH is an ongoing guest blog series curated by MHTF Research Assistant Yogeeta Manglani. If you would like to submit a guest blog post for possible inclusion the series, please email Yogeeta.