New global partnership to save lives at birth

Quotes of note from the Saving Lives at Birth launch event

At an event in Washington, D.C. on 9 March 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, Special advisor to the Prime Minister of Norway on global health, Dr. Tore Godal, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Melinda Gates, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, Dr. Peter A. Singer, and The World Bank Vice President for Human Development, Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, addressed the critical need for innovations that go beyond conventional approaches and have the potential to save the lives of millions of women and babies in the hardest to reach communities of the world.

Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“Healthy mothers and newborns are the foundation of healthy and prosperous societies,” she said. “We must partner to develop new technologies and seek new ways of delivering solutions to women and children who need them most. This initiative will speed up progress we’re already making—and will lead to new kinds of progress that we have yet to conceive.”

Jonas Store, Foreign Minister of Norway

“The day of birth is still the most dangerous day for the mother and the newborn. This is the most brutal expression of discrimination against women,” said Mr Store. “Capturing new opportunities in innovation can make a big contribution to a safe birth and women’s health.”

Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada

Mr Singer expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work with committed partners toward saving lives at birth around the world: “It's a privilege for Canada and Grand Challenges Canada to be here with the United States, with Norway and other partners, tackling what really is the mother of all ethical challenges,” he said. “It's just not right that your wife or my wife, compared to a woman in Africa in childbirth is 135 times as likely to die as your or my wife. That's not right. So we're very privileged to be working with you, applying innovation because innovation saves lives.”

He also expressed his faith in the developing world’s capacity to bring about their own solutions to problems they face with a little help: “We did a study where we went and sought out innovations in Africa. And we found many, many innovations in the pipeline, we called them stagnant technologies because they're great ideas but they're stuck. There's no mentorship, there's no capital, nothing like what we're providing today.”

Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, Vice President, Human Development, The World Bank

Ms Manuelyan Atinc spoke of the effectiveness of proven innovations like performance-based financing and the use of web-enabled applications: “Paying for results for verifiable and verified results saves the lives of mothers and babies,” she said. “I think the beauty of this initiative is that it's going to come from unexpected sources, which is why we're launching this…in particular (from) the young people. I recently was introduced to a concept of positive deviance where the philosophy is that solutions exist within the community. And what we need to do is look and see where different results are and systematically try and understand why in the same community some people are attaining different results. And doing that would lead us I think to many innovative ways of improving the outcomes.”

Dr Rajiv Shah, USAID Administrator

Dr Shah spoke of the desperate need to find new ways to overcome the realities faced by women living in remote locations: “To make advances in maternal and newborn health, our real opportunity lies in harnessing the power of innovation—scientific, technological, and behavioral—to build a continuum of invention from bench to bush,” he said. “Innovations in products and the platforms we use to deliver them will allow us to expand our reach to women who will likely never set foot inside a hospital.”

He also stressed the importance of continued commitment from donor countries to saving lives of women and children at birth: “… inventing solutions that save lives at birth is a critical part of our national security, it's a critical part of shaping the world we want to live in, and it's a critical part of expressing our values, who we are, to the least fortunate communities around the world…I want to thank you for coming and being part of that expression of our commitment and ask you and invite you to continue to push us to be creative and think differently about how we can get the costs down and the quality and the results up. As we really work through what I think will be a difficult budget environment but one in which we are absolutely committed to continually making the reforms that show the world that for a very, very small investment you can save lives, make the world a fundamentally safer and more prosperous place.”