Peter A. Singer

Peter Singer has dedicated the last decade to bringing innovation to tackling the health challenges of the world’s poorest people. He is well known around the world for his creative solutions to some of the most pressing global health challenges. Dr. Singer is Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada. He is also Director at the Sandra Rotman Centre at University Health Network and Professor of Medicine at University of Toronto.

In November 2011, the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (CAHS) released its report Canadians Making a Difference.  One of the five key roles for Canada in global health that was emphasized in the report was innovation:

Canada’s long-term impact on global health will be driven by our ability to develop and implement new ideas and to bring them to scale where they are needed—what is commonly called “innovation.” In September 2010, CAHS convened an Expert Panel on Canada’s Strategic Role in Global Health

The report also highlighted how innovation cuts across and is embedded in the other four roles that were identified.

Today, two years after the CAHS report was released, Canada’s global health innovation role has never been stronger.  In the past 3 years Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, has supported more than 150 global health innovations in Canadian institutions totalling more than $30 million.  We have worked closely with Canada’s International Development Research Centre and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research which have supported even more research & innovation in global health.

Grand Challenges Canada has supported projects that span science & technology, social and business innovation and seeks to combine all of these elements in an integrated innovation approach for sustainability and scale.  Some examples of innovations supported by Grand Challenges Canada (and it’s hard to choose examples because so much excellent work is being done) include:

  • The University of British Columbia’s Richard Lester, working in Kenya, has successfully shown that SMS reminders can improve an individual’s adherence to anti-retroviral treatment for HIV positive patients, helping to ensure continued good health and prevent potentially fatal complications.
  • The University of Alberta’s  Stephanie Yanow’s technology provides confirmatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) results for malaria in home-based conditions and is likely to be commercially available in low- and middle-income markets within a couple of years.
  • At the University of Waterloo, Rohit Ramchandani’s project in Zambia is distributing life-saving anti-diarrheal therapy oral rehydration solutions (ORS) and Zinc sachets to families that would not otherwise have access to this life saving treatment.  Diarrhea is the number one killer of children in the developing world and this project offers a cost effective strategy to ensure that proven treatments are available even in difficult to reach regions and communities.  Thus far over 20,000 sachets have been distributed. The kit, commonly called kit Yamoyo in Zambia, was named “one of the top ten breakthrough innovations that can save lives now” during the Every Woman Every child event that was held alongside the 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2013.
  • At McGill University, Nikita Pai has tested a model to ensure the acceptability of HIV oral self-testing in South Africa that has the potential to significantly improve health outcomes and save lives. This strategy increases the percentage of people who know their HIV status and thus reduces transmission rates. In addition, it saves time for healthcare professionals allowing them to focus on those who test positive and need immediate treatment.
  • At Dalhousie University, a grant from Grand Challenges Canada has enabled Patricia Livingston to develop a medical simulation centre in Rwanda that teaches resuscitation, teamwork, communication, and advanced clinical skills using low-tech simulation. This robust learning environment will train health care professionals in essential clinical skills without risk to patients. This teaching approach will improve patient safety and save lives.

Canada’s approach to global health innovation has balanced innovator-defined projects (through Grand Challenges Canada’s Stars in Global Health program for example) with specific targeted grand challenges.  The targeted grand challenges have focused on women and childrens’ health (consistent with the Muskoka Initiative and the Millennium Development Goals 4 & 5) and Non-Communicable Diseases (consistent with recent United Nation
s General Assembly and World Health Organization resolutions).  Some of the specific targeted challenges that have been addressed by Canada (through Grand Challenges Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canada’s International Development Research Centre) include:

  • Saving Lives at Birth
  • Saving Brains
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Global Mental health

Looking forward, Grand Challenges Canada, which is funded by the Government of Canada, will be supporting ~ 70 new Canadian innovations per year through our Stars in Global Health program and we are starting to support the scaling up of successful innovations from current grantees through larger follow-on investments.  We will support even more Canadian innovators through our targeted challenges – Saving Lives at Birth, Saving Brains and Global Mental Health. Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canada’s International Development Research Centre – both funded by the Government of Canada — and international groups like Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will be supporting more Canadian innovations. The future of global health innovation in Canada looks bright and Canadians are making a difference in global health!