Highlights from "The Future of Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Innovation” Forum

Hosted by Duke and Saving Lives at Birth, speakers included DGHI's Krishna Udayakumar, Patricia Odero, Joy Noel Baumgartner and Elina Urli Hodges

Published July 28, 2020 under Research News

Written by Mary Brophy Marcus


Despite significant global progress, many challenges still exist in the area of maternal, newborn and child health. The COVID-19 pandemic has only magnified these challenges. This past week, leaders, innovators, and researchers from the public- and private-sector gathered for a digital forum, “The Future of Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health Innovation”, hosted by Duke University and Saving Lives at Birth — part of the U.S. Agency of International Development's (USAID's) efforts to end preventable child and maternal deaths.

The conversation, facilitated by DGHI’s Krishna Udayakumar, Director of the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, revolved around SL@B’s work as well as the future of prevention and treatment approaches to support pregnant mothers and newborns during the pandemic and beyond.

We’re sharing below some highlights from the July 22 forum from DGHI participants. A video of the entire event — including comments from all participants — will be posted here soon, as well:

Patricia Odero, Regional Director, Africa, at the Duke Global Health Innovation Center, on how innovation can address global maternal, newborn and child health needs and priorities over the next 10 years: 

“Being able to have local partnerships and networks is essential.” 

“We know that every innovation requires a team to be able to push it forward.” 

“At the earliest stages of an innovation, it was essential for the core innovator — or the founder — to be able to identify what complementary skillsets they need to advance their innovation, helping them to figure out how to get those skillsets. Sometimes through advice at the early stage and later on through setting up an organizational structure and recruiting their first team members. At the later stage it was really around strengthening the organizational structure to scale.” 

Joy Noel Baumgartner, Director of the DGHI Evidence Lab, Associate Research Professor at Duke, and Lead for the DGHI Global Mental Health Working Group on Saving Lives at Birth (SL@B):

“Saving Lives at Birth has funded 147 total awards, including 116 unique innovations. SL@B funding partners engaged Duke in January 2018 to design and conduct an evaluation of the SL@B program, to determine how well it is achieving its intended impact. And to generate data-drive recommendations for potential future iterations of the program.”

“SL@B was able to both inspire and fund a large proportion of early stage ideas, moreso than other funders that are in the same space.”

“They have an open approach to bringing in new players into the field of maternal and neonatal health that was unique about the SL@B design and they increased awarenss of innovation in and of itself within maternal and neonatal health. The way it was designed and promoted lifted the field more broadly.”

“Areas to strengthen include representation of more LMIC-led innovations in SL@B’s innovation portfolio, and including engagement and buy-in of public health and private sector stakeholders in priority LMCs.”

“We need to manage expectations of innovators, to let them know that not everything will scale and to let them know that that’s okay.”

“Remind stakeholders that it might be some years before you actually see true reductions in mortality that are going to show up at a global level, which is ideally is what we all want. We want to see those global reductions in maternal mortality and neonatal mortality.”

Elina Urli Hodges, Assistant Director, Programs, at Duke Global Health Innovation Center

“Our vision is a world where innovation improves health for all.”

“We are fully committed to generating evidence on what works and what doesn’t so that we can accelerate the uptake and access to high quality, low-cost health products and services.”

“We are tracking not only the pathways that interventions take to get to people, but also what is the time that it takes for these interventions to ultimately reach people… and we continue to collect the evidence for what it takes to scale up.”