28 September 2018

Pathways to Scale for Global Health Innovations: the Role of the Private Sector

Alongside the opening of the 73rd Session of the UN General Assembly, the Every Woman Every Child Innovation Marketplace and the United Nations Foundation co-hosted a side event highlighting the important role of the private sector in supporting global health innovations to scale.  Approximately 50 participants from the business sector, development agencies, NGOs and government attended the event, which was opened by Dr. Karlee Silver, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada and Chair of the Innovation Marketplace. Dr Silver provided an overview of progress made by the Innovation Marketplace over the last year, stating that the event aimed to provide a collective delve into the new medical devices cluster of the Innovation Marketplace.

Innovator Pitches

The event was moderated by Natalie Africa, Senior Director for Global Health and Private Sector Engagement at the United Nations Foundation, and kicked off with pitches from three innovators who shared their exciting solutions with the audience, namely:


  • Dr. Ibrahim Mohedas, project lead of SubQ Assist, a device that tackles the unmet contraception needs of 225 million women worldwide. SubQ Assist is an assistive medical device for easy use by low-skilled health workers to administer long-acting reversible contraceptive implants.
  • Dr. Avijit Bansal, co-founder & CEO of Windmill Health presented Neobreathe, a device tackling birth asphyxia worldwide. Neobreathe reduces the skills required to effectively resuscitate a newborn by freeing one hand to allow effective sealing of the mask with both hands and instead using a foot-enabled air pump.
  • Lina Sayed, Chief Commercial Officer of Gradian Health Systems introduced The Universal Anaesthesia Machine, the world’s first internationally-certified anesthesia workstation designed to generate its own medical oxygen and work without electricity. Together with their emphasis on anesthesia training to date, it has contributed to more than 250,000 safer surgeries worldwide.

During the subsequent lunch break, participants had the opportunity to mingle with the innovators.

 Dual Market Strategies
Dr. Beth Kolko demonstrating her innovation.
Dr. Ibrahim Mohedas demonstrating his innovation.
Dr. Avijit Bansal demonstrating his innovation.
Dr. Donna Brezinski demonstrating her innovation.

Two frank and dynamic panel discussions followed in the second segment of the event. The first panel, on “Dual Market Strategies”, was moderated by Julie McDowell from TARIS Incorporated and featured Dr Beth Kolko, CEO of Shift Labs, Dr Donna Brezinski, CEO and Founder of Little Sparrow Technologies, Jeffrey Jacobs of Merck for Mothers, Jan-Willem Scheijgrond of Philips and Kabeer Aziz of the Global Health Investment Fund (GHIF).

L-R: Jan-Willem Scheijgrond, Kabeer Aziz, Jeffrey Jacobs, Dr Beth Kolko, Dr Donna Brezinski, Julie McDowell

Advantages cited by Dr. Kolko and Dr. Brezinski of pursuing dual market strategies (market approaches that target higher income countries (HICs) as well as middle and lower income countries (LMICs) include: ability to attract diverse sources of investment and impact the most vulnerable communities; ensure that products marketed in LMICs are also deemed viable to market in HICs and balance low pricing in LMICs with higher pricing in high income countries. Kabeer Aziz from GHIF and Jeff Jacobs from Merck for Mothers spoke of their investment in ‘InPress’, now Alydia Health, an innovation to treat post-partum hemorrhage that was successfully curated by the Innovation Marketplace and which has now been successful in receiving funding from the two partners to build a dual market strategy. Jan-Willem Scheijgrond of Philips also pointed out the need for governments to facilitate task shifting, to enable lower-cost, user friendly innovations to be used by nurses and midwives to enable impact in rural, less well-served areas, rather than relying on physicians or higher trained technical staff.

Challenges to Scaling

The second panel, moderated by Leith Greenslade, CEO and Founder of JustActions, focused on “Challenges to Scaling”, and featured Shira Kilcoyne, Head of Corporate Government Affairs at Washington GSK, Renuka Gadde, Vice President of Global Health at Becton Dickinson, Dr. Peter Cherutich, Director for Preventive and Promotive Health at the Ministry of Health of Kenya,  Dr. Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents at The World Health Organization and Gerhard Pries, CEO of Sarona Asset Management. The panelists candidly shared both success stories and challenges in trying to scale global health projects, to make an impact in populations that need innovative, cost-effective solutions most.

L-R: Dr. Nono Simelela, Gerhard Pries, Dr. Peter Cherutich, Renuka Gadde, Shira Kilcoyne, Leith Greenslade

Shira Kilcoyne of GSK raised as challenges the lack of sustainable financing, the need to create demand generation and the difficulty in going from pilot to scale. Renuka Gadde of BD shared how the success of auto-disable syringes, which achieved generalized application over a period of 15 years, happened thanks to the creation of an integrated eco-system that covered public sector and industry normative changes, social and media awareness, as well as volume and price mechanisms. Dr Peter Cherutich noted that governments are inundated with new solutions, while the most promising solutions available globally are often not known. There is a need, he indicated, for a neutral information platform, like the Marketplace, that can share information on the best solutions, and also for innovators to better identify the processes by which solutions are identified and purchased by governments. Mr Pries spoke to the very low percentage of investment from private capital in the African health sector, and noted the need for public-private collaboration to encourage private investment in this sector.

“The interventions that are really going to make a difference will come from innovation,” noted Dr Simelela, who emphasized the importance of building on organic, community-led innovations, and on ensuring that innovations that are promoted to governments deliver the promised results. She also shared with the audience the creation of a new “Innovation Hub” at the WHO. Finally, Renuka Gadde flagged the importance of creating a procurement mechanism that provides a suite of innovations vetted by an authority such as the WHO to help consolidate the fragmented market of health innovations.

Irene Koek, Deputy Assistant Administrator of USAID’s Global Health Bureau, concluded the discussions by highlighting the need to bring partners together strategically to make the necessary impact in global health innovation. Dr Karlee Silver called on all participants to think about concrete ways in which they would like to engage with the Marketplace and support its mission and innovators.