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Blog Post

Innovation: A Solution to the World's Most Persistent Health and Development Challenges

  • Steven Buchsbaum, Mar 21, 2014

This was originally published on ibnlive.com.

Innovation has the ability to transform societies, making what once seemed unimaginable a reality. Much of what we perceive as normal today from the car to electricity resulted from groundbreaking innovations that disrupted the status quo. Specific to health, with the development of the smallpox and polio vaccines, we eradicated the first disease in history and are on the cusp of eradicating a second.

Without a doubt, these scientific and technological developments have had a profound impact, changing the perception of the population and shifting the way the world functions.

Despite these past successes, challenges particularly in the health and development space still remain. These challenges continue to impact the productivity and lives of billions of people around the world. At present, 2.5 billion people do not have access safe sanitation, leading to the death of 1.5 million children under the age of five each year. Poor nutrition in childhood can have serious long-term effects or lead to death, yet one quarter of all children or 165 million are stunted worldwide and 1.5 million die each year from wasting. In order to solve these, and other global challenges, we must continue to encourage and support innovation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and a growing network of international partners including the government of India are doing just this. Through a family of grant programs called "Grand Challenges," we work with our partners to support innovative research to radically improve key problems in health and development around the world. Over the past 10 years, Grand Challenges has evolved to encompass multiple grant programs run by a diverse group of partners.

A family of funders and researchers together can be greater than the sum of the individual members. When we work together, we can have the most impact. Partnerships allow us not only to leverage funding for shared priorities, but also to reach innovators around the world who we may not have been able to identify on our own. By tapping into local innovation networks, we are able to fund researchers and scientists who are acutely aware of the challenge at hand. As a result, they are well equipped to contextualize their research and identify potential solutions. Specific to India, our Grand Challenges partnership with the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC) and IKP Knowledge Park, have allowed us to leverage India's strengths in basic research and high-quality institutions and laboratories.

Indian capabilities in science and technology cover an impressive range of disciplines, including agriculture, health care, pharmaceuticals and nuclear energy, among others. The experts in these fields are the same researchers who are exposed to some of the greatest health and development challenges we face today, providing an unparalleled combination of expertise and experience to contribute to truly transformative solutions.

Through our Grand Challenges partnership with DBT and BIRAC, we launched our first joint program in August 2013, "Achieving Healthy Growth through Agriculture and Nutrition." This program aims to unleash India Innovations to make an impact in India and to leveraging these Indian innovations to support other countries facing similar challenges. On March 20, 2014 we were thrilled to announce the next cadre of Indian innovators who will bring their knowledge to bear on one of the greatest development issues of our time low birth weight and early stunting and wasting among infants.

We are optimistic that one if not a number of these ideas will yield promising solutions. We look forward to a world in which having access to the nutrients needed for a child to thrive will no longer be a question, but a fact of life. Innovation can help us get there.

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit www.grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.