Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

A MANDATE for Innovation

June 28, 2013

A labor assistance device invented by a mechanic in Argentina, inspired by a party trick using a balloon to get a cork out of a wine bottle? 

A neo-natal incubator that runs on a car battery? 

These are examples of truly innovative technologies that could dramatically improve the health of mothers and babies around the world, yet it can be really hard to figure out which technology or device might deliver the most impact, particularly in places where electricity, water and other ‘necessities’ for health are scarce if non-existent.

The foundation has a provided a grant to RTI International to develop a tool for helping to understand the relative impact of technologies for maternal and newborn health as measured by lives saved. The Maternal and Neonatal Directed Assessment of Technology (MANDATE) project offers a user-friendly, interactive and web-based model that anyone can use to see how a particular technology or package of technologies will “measure up” in terms of impact on the ground. This is really important from an investor standpoint, as there are many technologies out there that while well-intentioned, may never truly have impact because they aren’t designed to function in a low-resource setting, or because people can’t get to places where they might be available.

For example, babies who are born prematurely often suffer from hypothermia and need to be kept warm around the clock. In developed countries, these babies are placed in incubators until they are able to function on their own. Yet babies born prematurely in developing countries will seldom have access to such a high tech device, and so many engineers and developers have tried come up with viable infant warming devices. In the case of infant warmers, there are a lot of great products in various stages of development, but probably the most effective is not product-based at all: kangaroo mother care

MANDATE can help developers understand the specifications they’d need to achieve in order to bring neonatal and maternal deaths down, and also offers technology briefs so that everyone can see what products have been developed for various. The decision model and the briefs already being used to re-think solutions to addressing some of the more difficult maternal conditions out there, such as post-partum hemorrhage and pre-eclampsia.

For example, the global health non-profit organization PATH has been working with the MANDATE tool as part of their maternal health technology assessment project funded by Merck & Co, Inc. After conducting a systematic analysis of nearly 40 technologies, PATH leveraged the tool to estimate possible lives saved and cases averted from advancing select health technologies for postpartum hemorrhage and preeclampsia/eclampsia. We’ve heard from the PATH project team leader, Claudia Harner-Jay, that “MANDATE helped refine our thinking about the potential impact of various technologies by showing the added value of bundling select interventions throughout the treatment continuum for preeclampsia and eclampsia.” 

The MANDATE project is an exciting platform for bringing together developers, public health practitioners, donors, and really anyone interested getting more high-impact products out there for improving maternal and newborn health. If a garage mechanic with no clinical experience can invent a truly remarkable device for helping babies be born more safely, then there really is no limit to the possibilities.

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