Life-saving kits for Zambian children hitch a ride
$7 million granted to test health innovations in poor countries
Health innovators in Canada will use their new $100,000 federal grants to deliver life-saving and inexpensive medications to children living in developing countries.
Grand Challenges Canada announced 68 grants worth $7 million in total on Thursday so researchers worldwide and in Canada can test their prevention and treatment ideas.
Nearly half of the population in sub-Saharan Africa lacks access to simple hydration salts and zinc tablets for diarrhea, a leading cause of death after pneumonia, in children under the age of five in the developing world, according to the World Health Organization.
One of the grants was awarded to a project distributing anti-diarrheal kits — a plastic container of medicines, soap and information that fits into the empty spaces between crated bottles of pop.
"What we're trying to do is basically piggyback on the Coca Cola supply chain to get these kits into those rural areas where access is most limited," said Rohit Ramchandani, a Canadian working as a public health adviser to ColaLife, a non-profit group.
The pilot project is underway in Zambia.
Other overseas projects include a trading system in Kenya that exchanges seed and fertilizer for proof of child vaccination, and a $100 kitchen renovation to reduce indoor pollution from burning biomass fuel. The smoke is associated with placental problems and low birth-weights in developing countries.
"This is probably the largest pipeline of innovation in global health from the developing world itself," said Dr. Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada. "What we've learned in supporting this is even very poor countries can be very rich in good ideas that can have results."
Included among the 17 projects based in Canada:
- Dr. Christian Kastrup in Vancouver will mimic rocket technology to propel nanoparticles into the bloodstream and stop maternal bleeding, a major cause of death in the developing world.
- Dr. Robin Evans in Vancouver is developing a burn survival kit. The innovation is being tested in Uganda where often burns are untreated or mistreated. The kit will include a low-cost silver nanotubule dressing so that the treatment is affordable.
- Dr. Julianne Gibbs-Davis of Edmonton is creating a unique approach to diagnosing TB. It involves extracting DNA from the infected person's TB bacteria and does not require the usual temperature changes that are expensive and difficult to implement in low-resource settings.
- Dr. Leyla Soleymani in Hamilton, Ont., is also tackling the rising incidence in developing countries of multi-drug resistant TB with a hand-held, solar rechargeable, inexpensive diagnostic device to rapidly assess patients at the bedside.
- Dr. Cheng Lu in Toronto has a unique idea for tackling clinic and hospital infections: a coating that can be sprayed or wiped on surfaces. Once applied, the long-lasting anti-bacterial components are activated by sunlight or artificial light, making it easy to use and effective.
- Dr. Karen Yeates of Kingston, Ont., will employ cellphones to improve cervical cancer screening and detection. It is being tested in remote areas of Tanzania.
- Dr. Marion Roche in Ottawa will use social marketing to rejuvenate interest in taking zinc to control childhood diarrhea.
- Dr. Philippe Archambault in Montreal will use virtual reality to assist rehabilitation of stroke victims suffering from hand or arm immobilization.
- Dr. Hanna Kienzler's in Montreal is testing a new approach to treating trauma in the developing world. The innovation, called "Defeating the Giant with a Slingshot," blocks memory of trauma and will be tested on victims of torture in Nepal.
- Dr. Alexis Vallée-Bélisle is developing an instrument to detect HIV infection in fewer than five minutes, leading to earlier treatment.
- Dr. Patricia Livingston's project in Halifax will improve emergency services with a specific focus on crisis management for mothers delivering babies. The project is being tested in Rwanda.
Grand Challenges Canada is an independent, non-profit organization funded by the federal government.
With files from the CBC's Pauline Dakin