Scientific and tech research is like a compass pointing to new directions on strategic decisions and public policies. Health innovations developed at laboratories and universities can offer new tools to improve diagnostics, create more cost effective interventions and novel ways to control diseases that affect millions every year. Thus, funding scientists and entrepreneurs is instrumental to ensure quality and affordable health care to an increasing world population.
The Secretariat of Science, Technology and Strategic Products at the Brazilian Ministry of Health has invested 450 million reais (about US$180 million) in 809 studies across Brazil in the last four years. More than just fostering science and technology, these investments have a clear purpose: provide innovative solutions to address challenges imposed by one of the largest public health system in the world. Brazil is the only country with more than 100 million people to have a Universal Health System, the Sistema Único de Saúde.
Many of our biggest and most persistent challenges, though, are not unique to Brazil: high rates of preterm births, dengue fever, unhealthy children development and lack of affordable and accurate diagnostics and drugs, just to mention a few.
Common and grand challenges on health require joint and grand solutions. Guided by this belief, the Ministry of Health signed in 2012 a partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation around the Grand Challenges initiative. This family of grant programs funds a joint effort of scientists around the world to develop impactful new solutions for the same persistent problems plaguing multiple countries. The theory is that if a health innovation made in Brazil can succeed, it will potentially perform well in settings with similar challenges.
The common thread between Brazil and the Gates Foundation around Grand Challenges is the quest for affordable solutions that will have a long-term impact on health, and that can be introduced at a large scale in Brazil and in other countries where ease of use is essential and high cost is a barrier. In this sense, our health system provides a reliable platform for testing and delivering interventions that are truly transformative for Brazilians, with positive ripple effects for other nations.
Last year, we joined the Gates Foundation and the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) to launch the first ever country-specific Grand Challenges initiative. Grand Challenges Brazil: Reducing the Burden of Preterm Birth sought bold ideas to address a pressing issue in Brazil. The call for proposals yielded 156 projects and funded 12 investigators, whose projects range from clinical biomarkers to predict preterm birth to interventions in prenatal care. If these solutions work, they can save lives not only in Brazil but also in countries like Malawi, where preterm birth rate reaches 18 percent.
Building on the success of this first initiative, we are launching this week a second country-specific Grand Challenge that can also generate impact in other countries. Grand Challenges Brazil: All Children Thriving focuses on measurement tools and new combinations of approaches to ensure all children become healthy adults. In partnership with the Gates Foundation and the CNPq, we are offering US$4.5 million to Brazilians able to determine what packages of interventions should be delivered to reduce factors that can harm a healthy development and impact adult life.
Brazil joins India and South Africa, countries that are also launching All Children Thriving programs this week. This will generate a global network of investigators working on similar issues to exchange lessons learned. The Grand Challenges we are announcing this week is more than an initiative. It is a South-South alliance to ensure that all mothers and children around the globe have the chance to have productive lives.
Because we all know that grand problems like this deserve grand solutions, we invite all Brazilian scientists to send your most innovative projects. The challenge will be launched on the CNPq website in just a few weeks, and will remain open until January 13th 2015.
Facing grand challenges on global health is what motivates the partnership between the Gates Foundation and us. Enormous challenges can be overcome with personal and institutional articulations sharing the same values and desire for change. Combining science and innovation to deliver affordable technologies that will ensure access to health care is our main reason to make such partnerships.