Guest Author

Dr. Shaun Morris is an Infectious Diseases Consultant at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, one of the largest and most respected paediatric academic health science centres in the world. He is an innovator in the Stars in Global Health (Round 4) program with a project called ‘A toolkit to save newborn lives’, implemented in Pakistan.

Grand Challenges Canada is innovative in many ways, including the requirements of grant proposals.  As part of the Stars in Global Health application, applicants submit a short video outlining their proposed idea to solve a global health problem.   The problem I chose to tackle is that of newborn mortality.  While significant progress has been made over the past decade on overall mortality with children under the age of five, minimal progress has been made in reducing neonatal deaths and these now represent about 40% of all deaths in children under the age of five.  The majority of neonatal deaths occur in rural areas of developing countries, and two thirds are due to infections and complications relating to low birth weight (LBW) and prematurity.

My project uses community health workers to deliver a kit of low-cost, evidence-based interventions to pregnant women in a poor and remote community in Pakistan to see if we can reduce newborn mortality in a cost-effective way.  The kit includes a clean delivery kit, chlorhexidine to be applied to the umbilical stump to reduce infections, sunflower oil emollient to stop skin breakdown and maintain body temperature, a sticker that changes colour to let a mother know if her newborn is too cold or too hot, and a mylar blanket with reusable heater to warm a hypothermic baby during transport.

For the grant application, I made a short video, set to traditional Pakistani music, describing the problem and my plan to trial the neonatal kit.  Admittedly, as I spent hours putting together the video, more than once I wondered ‘who is ever going to watch this?’.  After the video was posted on the Grand Challenges Canada website, it was with great surprise that I found in my email inbox a message from Samar Shaheryar and Alicia Wieser, two former investment bankers and new mothers living in Hong Kong.  Samar and Alicia were in the process of starting a new company, Baby Hero, that makes organic cotton baby clothes under ethical labour practices, with the goal of using profits to fund innovations in maternal and infant health. Samar and Alicia believe in the principle of the triple bottom line:  the success of a business should be measured by its economic sustainability, positive social impact and minimal environmental impact. Samar and Alicia were looking specifically for a partner working in maternal and child health in Pakistan that could contribute to this vision.  After many discussions over Skype and email, Samar and Alicia decided to partner with the neonatal kit project and, for each item of baby clothing sold, will give a clean birth kit, chlorhexidine and emollient to a mother in Pakistan.  While at first I wondered who would ever watch my video, following the partnership with Baby Hero, I quickly came to believe in the power of social media and the Internet to connect people on opposite sides of the planet who have a mutual goal of improving maternal and infant health in the poorest parts of the world.

Several months after our initial contact, Baby Hero is now up and running and the neonatal kits are soon to roll out in Rahimyar Khan District in Punjab, Pakistan.   Our goal with the kits is to reduce neonatal mortality in the study area by up to 40%.  If we are successful in achieving this, we plan to scale up the use of the kit to a much wider area in Punjab and elsewhere in Pakistan.  The partnership between Baby Hero and the neonatal kit project is a critical part of the process of scaling up and ultimate sustainability. Samar, Alicia and I look forward to this exciting and important partnership over the years to come.

Not only has Grand Challenges Canada supported the academic and scientific aspects of this project, their focus on social media and unique ways of information dissemination – such as project-specific videos – has directly led to this unique and unexpected partnership with Baby Hero.

Follow the author @SickKidsNews for the latest news or watch the video on the grantee page

We encourage you to post your questions and comments about this blog post on our Facebook page Grand Challenges Canada and on Twitter @gchallenges.