September 22, 2016

Innovating for Women and Children

Written by Crowd360 Coverage Team

The 71st UN General Assembly’s luncheon on “Innovating for Women and Children” brought global health leaders and early-stage entrepreneurs together for a meeting to showcase innovations for achieving good health for Every Woman Every Child by 2030. David Nabarro, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reminded us about the ways in which women’s and children’s health fit into the Global Goals agenda, and how the private sector is innovating to help achieve progress.

The plan Nabarro outlined draws on science and focuses on survival. From adequately monitoring births to ensure infants don’t develop pneumonia to making sure adolescent girls thrive, he reiterated the need for new technologies and tools to accelerate progress, bring these innovations to scale, and put more lifesaving interventions within reach.

The luncheon included an Innovation Showcase to foster greater awareness of specific advancements to reach the Sustainable Development Goals. Some of these innovations were technologically motivated, with a large focus on the effectiveness of mobile apps for on-the-ground reporting and dissemination of information.

For example, a mobile birth reporting and credentialing application featured at the luncheon allows for more accurate data collection in sub-Saharan Africa. Distributing medical advice via SMS has the potential to save many lives in Cameroon, where 600 children die every day but 77% of these deaths could be prevented with more relevant and localized medical information.

Other innovations showcased were simpler and more low-tech, but could also produce astronomical results. For example, Zika-prevention sandals, and latrines with trap-doors that prevent the backsplash of harmful bacteria in the absence of proper sanitation, were highlighted as affordable and easy to use —  factors that will increase actual adoption by users.

As a result of a strong partnership between Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE) and J&J, there is one particular innovation that has already seen huge success: banana fiber menstrual pads. In countries where menstrual pads can cost more than a day’s wages, SHE’s Founder and CEO Elizabeth Scharpf found that by cutting out middlemen in distribution, she could improve the lives of many women unable to afford this simple product. She poured cola on various fibers, like cassava local to the area she was looking to serve, and found that banana fibers —  an easily accessible, and unutilized by-product from banana trees — absorbed best. She went on to develop menstrual pads made from these fibers, helping 15,000 customers access menstrual hygiene products and increasing the income of 1000 female farmers by 40%.

There is no doubt the innovations of the entrepreneurs highlighted will scale to help many more women and girls in the future. The opportunity to gather this diverse set of stakeholders allows for new partnerships to further the development of current innovations to benefit Every Woman Every Child. As Mats Granryd of GSMA reminded the room, “When women thrive, families thrive, societies thrive and economies thrive.”