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Funding Trends in Maternal and Newborn Heath Innovation

02 December 2020

Last year at Equalize Health, we started the transition to a new strategic model to bring global health innovations to market. We wanted to therefore know how much global health funding has gone to maternal and newborn health innovations? And, what stage of scale have they achieved?

We (particularly me!) had been frustrated by the slow pace of solution development and everything that goes along with it. If anything, with so many more new innovators in global health bringing exciting perspectives and ideas, we should be getting better. But it doesn’t seem that way.

Clearly, we are not the only ones unhappy with the status quo. Like others, we have seen data that suggested that solutions in global health took anywhere from 17 to 25+ years to scale in a meaningful way*. This length of time is heart-breaking when you consider the opportunity cost of lives, and especially when the science is - for the most part - already known. The problem seems to be translating the science and ideas into truly effective solutions that scale and have global impact.

It led us to ask questions about the state of global health innovation, particularly in maternal and newborn health, where Equalize Health is most active. We want to better learn from the last 10+ years of MNH investing and innovations. We seek to better understand history so that we and others can develop better solutions, faster and with greater efficiency.

  • How much funding has been invested in maternal and newborn health innovation by key global health funders?

  • What is the result of that funding? What are the characteristics of the innovations?

  • Are the innovations more likely to utilize a specific technical approach (e.g. medical devices, pharmaceuticals, diagnostics)

  • How many are having an impact at scale?

"We seek to better understand history so that
we and others, can develop better solutions,
faster, and with greater efficiency.'

Led by Allison Ettenger, a consulting researcher (and former D-Rev fellow!), we analyzed data from the Global Innovation Exchange’s database, which had data reaching back 10+ years and included over 400 innovations. The result is our paper, Trends and Gaps in Funding and Scaling Maternal and Newborn Health Innovations.

Our findings for the most part are not surprising: universities are the largest recipients of innovation funding, most innovations get “stuck” at the earliest stage of scaling, and it is NGOs and for-profits that are largely active in later stages of innovation scaling. (See below Figure 8 from the paper below.) There too was contextual color about the sector - how much money has gone into MNH innovation development (~US$197M) and what types of innovations received the most funding (Service Delivery and Software).

From p13 Trends and Gaps in Funding and Scaling Maternal and Newborn Health Innovations. Figure 8. Stage of innovation achieved by type of organization (Q3’2020).

Ultimately we were left with many more questions than answers:

  • Why isn’t there a common definition of scaling? (We propose one, p.10)

  • How can we as a sector reduce the barriers to scale?

  • Or more smartly invest?

We hope you and others will build on these questions. And while we are hoping, our hope is that sector leaders and funders invest in building GIE’s and others’ databases, leading these analyses, and prompting great dialogue in our sector. We need this discussion to get smarter and be better. We can learn as much from the innovations that quietly disappear as from those that are changing the world. Our analysis had limitations - starting with the data that is available. We discuss others too. Despite those, we were to develop a snapshot of where our sector is in mid-2020.

In presenting learnings, we sought to minimize commentary, just communicate what the data told us. One takeaway, however, is that our sector has more work to do and more questions to ask. We hope our analysis is a step toward greater transparency and discussion about how to best support scalable global health innovation. The maternal and newborn health problems that we are all addressing are urgent. Lives literally depend on it.

You can download the full research paper here.

Learn more about our recommendations based on this research at Alliance Magazine: For Philanthropy & Social Investment Worldwide

* Balas E. A., & Boren S. A. Managing clinical knowledge for health care improvement. Yearbook of Medical Informatics, 2000, 65–70. Also, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in USAID’s Center for Innovation and Impact (2019, October 10) Ready, Set, Launch: A Country-Level Launch Planning Guide for Global Health Innovations