Impact Now: Improving maternal, newborn and child health in Africa through innovative solutions

February 7, 2020

By Maggie Woo-Kinshella and Stefanie Novakowski

“Any problem can be solved with a little ingenuity”– Elizabeth Molyneyx, University of Malawi College of Medicine

In November 2019, 100 researchers, clinicians, policy-makers, and educators gathered at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies in South Africa for Impact Now, a three-day conference to discuss innovations for improving maternal, newborn and child health in sub-Saharan Africa.

Organized by the Centre for International Child Health (CICH) at BC Children’s Hospital and the Action on Sepsis Research Cluster at the University of British Columbia, and supported by the Peter Wall Institute through the Wall Colloquia Abroad program, attendees represented 62 organizations from 18 countries and brought together diverse perspectives and expertise to a global challenge.

Globally, 5.6 million children die before they reach their fifth birthday, many in the first month of life. Additionally, 300 thousand women are estimated to die from complications during pregnancy and childbirth each year. For mothers, newborns, and children in low-resource settings, sepsis is a leading cause of death, arising from infections which can occur at any point in an individual’s lifespan.

Innovations have an enormous potential to save maternal, newborn and child lives, but can only do so when implemented successfully. Throughout the conference, attendees such as David Goldfarb (BC Children’s Hospital) shared their experiences implementing new technologies in resource-limited settings.

As part of the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa initiative, Goldfarb is working with researchers and healthcare providers in Malawi to understand the barriers and facilitators to implementing evidence-based technologies for improving newborn health in rural hospitals. From their stories,the importance of local champions, local cultural contexts, and long-term manufacturing and marketing plans became clear.

“If you go into our ministries of health, you will see many beautiful documents…The commitment to implement is there but the actual implementation is not there yet.” Dr, Queen Dube, Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital and the University of Malawi College of Medicine

During the conference, idea pitches provided a chance to gain feedback and build connections to help move ideas forward. To help health care workers identify newborns suffering from sepsis, BC Children’s Hospital’s Pascal Lavoie and Guy Dumont (a 2018 Wall Scholar) have created VideoOx, a smartphone app that synchronizes video imaging with vital sign monitoring.

The final day of Impact Now focused specifically on the emerging challenges of sepsis and the increasing threat of antibiotic resistance. As Dr. Pui-Ying Iroh Tam (Malawi-Liverpool Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Programme) noted, antimicrobial resistance is rapidly outpacing the development of new antibiotics.

Ellen Chirwa (Kamuza College of Nursing) also gave an eye-opening talk on maternal sepsis, as she recounted how patients in Malawi were asked to buy brown sugar, vinegar, and hydrogen peroxide because of a lack of wound dressing supplies on the ward.

Accurate data can be extremely useful for health care workers managing care for sepsis patients. However, obtaining high-quality data has been challenging in resource-limited settings. To address this challenge, the Pediatric Sepsis Data CoLaboratory was launched in 2017. This international network aims to improve the quality of care for children with sepsis by creating a platform for collecting and sharing standardized, open data. To close the conference, Mark Ansermino (CICH)and Niranjan ‘Tex’ Kissoon (BC Children’s Hospital) shared the progress the CoLab has made since its initial launch.

Impact Now was sponsored by: The Centre for International Child Health, the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC, and the Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa initiative.

Maggie Woo-Kinshella is a PRE-EMPT Global Health Research coordinator and a PhD student in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Stefanie Novakowski is a Grant Writer at the Centre for International Child Health (BC Children’s Hospital) and the Action on Sepsis Research Cluster (UBC).

The Wall Colloquia Abroad is a unique program directed at enhancing relations with our international partners and expanding opportunities for international research collaborations for Faculty Associates of the Institute. Instead of being held at the Institute, Wall Colloquia Abroad are held at one of our partner institutions: the Collège de France in Paris, France, or the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in Stellenbosch, South Africa.