Partnership to fast-track life-saving health innovations

The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and international non-profit organisation Path have launched a new partnership to speed up the development of sustainable, high-impact health innovations capable of saving the lives of vulnerable women and children in South Africa and beyond.


The Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA), launched in Cape Town on Tuesday, will combine the resources and expertise of the government, academia and private partners to advance the design and manufacture of safe, low-cost, medically approved and culturally appropriate products to meet the urgent health needs of South Africa’s poorest, most vulnerable women and children.

SAMRC president Glenda Gray, speaking at Tuesday’s launch, said the partnership would be a game-changer in South African health care.

“We desperately need to find innovative solutions that will save the lives of women during pregnancy and childbirth,” Gray said. “Interventions that prevent unnecessary stillbirths and neonatal deaths are critical as we endeavour to drive down mortality in children in Africa.”

The partnership will tackle two problems that often block global health innovations from realising their potential.

“First, many great ideas lack the support to make it all the way from research to product,” the SAMRC said in a statement. “Second, products designed for high-income markets are often not suitable for poorer communities that cannot afford them or lack the infrastructure to use them”.

The GHIA will aim to push through these barriers to translate the best ideas from South Africa and around the world into widespread use, by shifting the nexus of global health innovation to the people who know Africa’s needs best: Africans themselves.

For example, the SAMRC notes, more than one quarter of both pre-school children and women in South Africa, as well as 21 percent of pregnant women, suffer from anaemia, or iron deficiency, which is particularly dangerous during pregnancy, placing both mother and baby at risk of life-threatening complications.

When health care workers screen expectant mothers, they can provide life-saving monitoring and treatment. But standard methods require a blood test, which can be a deterrent, or simply isn’t possible, in many places.

To address this problem, the GHIA is partnering with a South African company and a US-based multinational to develop a new product that will make it easier and more affordable to diagnose anaemia.

The device, which will be made in South Africa, measures haemoglobin levels in less than a minute using a clip that attaches to a fingertip. The screening is reliable, painless – and doesn’t require a blood test.

The GHIA will assist with development expertise, funding and global networking to get the device into the hands of health care workers – giving millions more mothers and babies the chance of a healthy pregnancy and birth.

“South Africa has reached a historic confluence of talent, resources and political will,” the SAMRC said. “Over the next decade, we are going to see an explosion of growth as South Africa’s top research and engineering resources, universities, companies and entrepreneurs create a new landscape of health technologies.”

In 2013, funding and support from the Departments of Health and Science and Technology led to the establishment of the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (Ship) unit of the SAMRC in Cape Town.

The GHIA will be based at Ship, and will serve as the conduit for taking the health technologies researched by Ship and those sourced and progressed by Path to scale.

“We are on the cusp of a change that many South Africans have been working for years to achieve,” Gray said. “This is a tremendous opportunity for private sector partners, entrepreneurs, investors and researchers to contribute their ideas and talent to tackling global health challenges.

“Together, we can deliver transformative health tools to communities, build South Africa’s future, and give millions of women, children and families the chance to thrive.”