The birth of a child is a momentous event anywhere in the world. In many countries, though, the occasion is not just one of joy, but one of fear—fear for the life of the mother and the newborn baby. The time between when a woman begins labor and 48 hours after the birth of a baby is a high-risk period during which millions of newborn babies and new mothers die each year.
That’s why today the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is leveraging the collective resources of our partners—the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the Government of Norway, and The World Bank—to launch Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development. This grant-based program will seek groundbreaking prevention and treatment approaches for pregnant mothers and newborns around the time of delivery in rural, low-resource settings.
This extraordinary partnership underscores the fact that saving lives at birth is one of the most critical challenges facing people in developing countries. Finding new technologies, such as low-cost infant resuscitation devices or incubators, and new approaches to improve birth outcomes for mothers and newborns would not only alleviate suffering, but would also have a significant impact on public health and economic productivity.
It would also accelerate progress toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, which call for a two-thirds reduction in under-five mortality, a three-quarters reduction in maternal mortality, and universal access to reproductive health services.
Saving Lives at Birth is the first in a series of Grand Challenges for Development that will be announced by USAID in the coming years to mobilize focused attention and resources around the most pressing obstacles to achieving our development goals. These Grand Challenges for Development are definable, quantifiable goals that address some of the largest solvable problems poor countries currently face. USAID will partner with other funders and encourage others to invest in finding innovative solutions to these Challenges that are sustainable, scalable, easily adopted, and that build on and utilize 21st-century infrastructure and technology.
These Challenges also reflect President Obama’s commitment to game-changing innovation as a powerful and cost-effective instrument for achieving development goals. The President’s Policy Directive on Global Development focuses on sustainable development outcomes by placing a premium on broad-based economic growth, democratic governance, sustainable systems, and the creation and application of game-changing innovation to transform longstanding development challenges into solvable problems.
We believe that these Grand Challenges can address key priorities, catalyze innovations that drive economic growth, spur the formation of multidisciplinary teams of researcher and multi-sector collaborators, bring new expertise to bear on important problems, strengthen the ‘social contract’ between science and society, and inspire students and non-development experts to get involved in problem-solving for development.
USAID and its partners cannot solve the Grand Challenges for Development alone. We hope that the effort to meet these challenges will be taken up by non-governmental organizations, the private sector, governments, and individuals around the world. We know there are millions of people and organizations around the world who want to help but don’t know how to start. This is a place to start.
For more information on the Challenge and application process, visit www.savinglivesatbirth.net.
Raj Shah is Administrator of USAID
Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
[Ed. Note: Video of the launch of Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development, can be seen here: http://www.savinglivesatbirth.net/news]