Two research teams led by The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) have come up with innovative proposals to test the effectiveness of portable, low-cost technologies to improve maternal and infant survival in low-income countries.
Dr. Daniel Roth, Staff Physician in the Division of Paediatric Medicine at SickKids and Dr. Diego G. Bassani, Epidemiologist, in the Division of Paediatric Medicine and SickKids International are among 19 recent recipients of Canada’s Rising Stars in Global Health grants from Grand Challenges Canada, announced on June 29, 2011. The Rising Star awards are among the first grants given to Canadian researchers by Grand Challenges Canada, a non-profit organization funded from the Government of Canada’s foreign aid budget through the Development Innovation Fund.
Pulse oximetry, an everyday tool used in modern paediatric practice, has been called the fifth vital sign. The technology provides a precise measure of a patient’s blood-oxygen saturation and alerts health-care providers if a patient has a lack of adequate oxygen circulating in the blood. At any given moment, pulse oximetry is being used to assess and monitor children at SickKids.
“Initial signs of severe illness in newborns are often subtle and early recognition is critical to introducing life-saving therapy,” says Roth who is also Assistant Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto. “Objective, standardized methods are needed to rapidly and accurately identify sick infants in resource-poor countries. When we think about technologies that are low-cost, portable, non-invasive and give an accurate answer within seconds, pulse oximetry is the obvious tool to consider.”
With partners from the Department of Pediatrics at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, Dr. Roth will study the integration of pulse oximetry into the routine assessment of young infants presenting to primary health clinics in Karachi. Roth’s research will assess if implementation of routine pulse oximetry is feasible and has the potential to improve care delivery and health outcomes among young infants in resource-poor settings.
Bassani’s research will involve using a human-powered fetal heart monitor on pregnant women in Uganda. He will investigate whether the medical device could help reduce infant mortality.
The partnership between Canadian and African researchers will test the innovative, life-saving, low-cost monitor based on the idea that medical devices in developing countries must be rugged, reliable and not dependent on electricity. The crank-operated mechanism will be tested at two sites in Uganda. One minute of winding can power 10 minutes of monitoring.
“A baby’s heart rate is the most important signal of distress in labour. These monitors will come as a substitution to expensive and fragile devices that are largely unavailable in developing countries,” says Bassani who is also Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto. “If successful, large-scale implementation of the fetal heart monitors could reduce infant deaths.”
Fetal heart monitoring has been identified as a top research priority to reduce deaths from birth asphyxia by 2015.
Both researchers say their projects involve the evaluation of simple measures that, if implemented appropriately in low-resource settings, have the potential to save lives and contribute towards reducing mortality in developing countries.
According to Grand Challenges Canada, the Canadian Rising Stars in Global Health program aims to support early career innovators in global health, recognizing the difficulties of early career innovators in securing research funding in global health. Grantees were each awarded $100,000 to pilot-test their ideas; those researchers who are successful in demonstrating proof-of-concept will be eligible to apply for scale-up grants of up to $1 million.