Last week, I was in Brazil’s capital city of Brasilia along with 600 of the country’s leading scientists and innovators to launch a research and funding initiative between the Gates Foundation and the Brazilian Ministry of Health. This $8 million Grand Challenge in maternal and newborn health aims to encourage Brazilian scientists to develop innovative approaches to prevent preterm birth and help save infants’ lives in Brazil and around the world.
I took my first trip to Brazil as a representative of the Gates Foundation just six months ago. I had long known that Brazil shared the foundation’s vision of health equity, and the goal of my visit was to learn more about its capacity for innovation in the hope of identifying areas in which we could potentially collaborate.
During that trip, I had the chance to visit Fiocruz and Butantan, two of the most well known public health institutions in Brazil. I was struck by what I found. Built initially to produce serum and vaccines against the bubonic plague in the early 1900s, they are now the primary suppliers of vaccines for Brazil’s routine immunization program – one that has achieved an impressive 90% coverage rate.
They’ve also both invested significant resources in expanding their capacity for innovation. I visited Fiocruz’s new Center for Translational Science (CDTS), which will create more opportunities for Brazilian research to be translated into life-saving products. Butantan and Biomanguinhos, Fiocruz’s vaccine manufacturing wing, are also both investing in state-of-the-art facilities that will ensure a sustainable supply of vaccines for Brazil and other countries, especially those that need it most, for years to come.
Since October, I’ve been able to travel back to Brazil a number of times, and each trip I’ve been impressed by its capacity to innovate around diverse areas – from new technologies to new methods of getting services to the people who need them.
Indeed, a few weeks ago, this blog covered Brazilian researcher Dr. Zeni Carvalho Lamy’s quest to better understand and promote kangaroo care in Brazil and around the world. These are the types of innovative approaches Brazil can pioneer to improve health both within and beyond its borders.
The pre-term birth initiative is the first coming out of the partnership we established in 2011, and we hope to launch more over the months and years to come. If the diversity of researchers and the quality of the conversation here is any indication, we have a lot to look forward to.