Canadian-led projects are helping to add much-needed iron to people's diets in Cambodia and developing new tests to determine whether a baby has pneumonia at clinics that don't have access to X-rays.
The innovations are aimed at improving the health of mothers and young children in low-income countries around the world. They're supported by Grand Challenges Canada, a federally funded organization that provides seed money to help global health innovators develop, test and scale up their ideas. Here's a look at three of the projects that will receive support through Grand Challenges' most recent round of funding.
Lucky Iron Fish
In Cambodia, close to 60 per cent of women are anemic because they don't get enough iron in their diets, a condition that can lead to premature labour, hemorrhaging in childbirth and poor brain development in their babies.
University of Guelph graduate Chris Charles came up with the Lucky Iron Fish, a palm-sized piece of iron in the shape of a fish that people are encouraged to add to their cooking pots to increase their iron intake. The fish design was developed to fit with Cambodian folklore about a fish species that brings good luck. At a cost of $5 each, the fish can provide a daily supply of iron for an entire family for five years, making it much more affordable than traditional iron supplements.
The Post Discharge Survival Project
A University of British Colombia researcher received funding to design a mobile phone app aimed at helping clinicians to quickly identify babies at the highest risk of dying once they've been discharged from a hospital. In higher-risk cases, parents could then be asked to bring their babies in for follow-up appointments, providing an opportunity for intervention at a time when a child is more vulnerable.
The app would be based on information collected from previous research projects, and could include factors such as the distance a family lives from a hospital and members' level of education – in addition to the severity of the child's illness. The project would also provide a post-discharge survival kit for families, including information about early warning signs of illness and where to get care.
Pneumonia finger prick test
Another project, led by a University of Alberta researcher, is aiming to develop a finger prick blood test that could allow doctors to quickly diagnose pneumonia, a major contributor to childhood deaths worldwide. The simple test could make a big difference in hospitals and clinics where staff don't have access to the chest X-ray machines currently used to diagnose the condition.
Dr. Michael Hawkes said the project will look at the results of pneumonia patients' blood tests to search for one or more common biomarkers that can be used to diagnose the condition without the X-ray. "If we can find some markers of pneumonia that could be adapted to a rapid diagnostic test, a small bedside diagnostic device, you could roll this out, way out to the periphery in remote settings with low resources where most of the cases of pneumonia deaths occur."