20 Canadian ideas to improve child health win support from Grand Challenges
An Uber for pregnant moms, new ways to diagnose malaria are among innovations to get money for field tests
An Uber-like connection that can help get pregnant women in Kenya to health care; a 3D printer project to provide orthotic devices for Nepali children with clubfoot and scoliosis; and a microchip that can figure out what pathogen is causing diarrhea in children in Bangladesh.
These are among 20 Canadian projects that have won funding through Grand Challenges, which is awarding $2 million to Canadian innovators with ideas that address issues of child and maternal health.
On Monday, the program announced 20 winning projects, seeking out creative solutions to health-care problems in developing and middle-income countries. Each will get about $100,000.
All of the projects are at the idea stage and the seed money is meant to test whether it is worth further developing them, says Dr. Karlee Silver, vice-president of programs at Grand Challenges. Projects are chosen for their "boldness," the skill set of their teams and the feasibility of testing the idea in the field, she said.
Grand Challenges Canada is part of an international initiative to support bold innovations to address health and development problems and is funded by the government of Canada and other partners. It has been running since 2011, and this is the eighth round of funding. Silver estimates about 20 per cent of projects prove to be worth taking to a larger scale.
WelTel has already had success with a text message or SMS service to check in on Kenyan patients with HIV.
Texting works even in remote areas
"Even in the most remote areas of northern Kenya, people have access to cell service to send texts," he told CBC News.
The challenge now is to connect pregnant women in communities without health care to a network of private drivers who can take them to a clinic if they start to feel ill or go into labour.
Dr. Lester said ambulances are rare in these areas, but there are many drivers with private vehicles who would welcome a few extra dollars from carrying women to health care.
"Some of the investment will go to seeking out partners on the community level and figuring out the potential," he said.
The WelTel team would like to train some of the drivers in first aid and has hopes of finding an NGO that could help defray the cost of the ride-sharing service, he said, both developments that can now be investigated because of the funding.
Nikolai Dechev, project lead of the University of Victoria 3D printing project, hopes to create low-cost, effective, comfortable braces with a 3D printer to treat children with clubfoot, a misaligned foot, or scoliosis, a curvature of the spine.
Low-cost brace for clubfoot, scoliosis
Many children with these conditions in Nepal go untreated, Dechev says. "It depends on their family's resources and how far they live from Kathmandu. If they have to ride the bus for six or seven hours, it's basically not affordable."
If it proves successful, it could also be a cheaper orthotics alternative for children in developed countries, Dechev said.
The project team is working with doctors and an orthopedic surgeon in Nepal and it could be two years or longer before it's known whether the braces are viable solution.
- Preventable maternal, child deaths could be vanquished
- Maternal health funding 'the right thing to do'
The other projects that won funding in this round: