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Gates Foundation Awards Grants to Test Ideas Ranging from using Big Data for Social Good to Inventing the Next Generation of Condoms

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
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SEATTLE, November 20, 2013: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today announced a new round of winners as part of its Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) initiative. GCE grants fund innovative ideas to tackle persistent global health and development problems. Winning proposals this round will tackle a wide range of issues including: using social data for social good, the next generation of condom, helping women farmers in the developing world, new interventions for neglected diseases, and bringing together human and animal health for new solutions.

Winners spanning 14 countries were selected from more than 2,700 proposals. Winners represent a wide range of backgrounds and disciplines, including design professionals, health researchers, polymer engineers, entrepreneurs, and public-private coalitions.  

“Grand Challenges Explorations is designed to foster the most innovative ideas to save the lives of the world’s poorest people,” said Chris Wilson, director of the Discovery & Translational Sciences team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Although these five areas are very different, solving each one of these problems in new ways could make a huge impact.”

Each of the 81 projects announced today received $100,000 in funding to address one of the following topics:

Increasing Interoperability of Social Good Data - The world is awash in data and computing power, and while most industries are racing to take advantage of this resource and capability, many in the social sector are not yet able to do so easily. Projects are working to improve the availability and use of impact data by bringing together information from multiple organizations operating in similar fields and geographical areas to better track performance and manage programs. Projects include:

  • Gisli Olafsson of NetHope Inc. in the U.S. will work to improve humanitarian information management in emergencies, such as after a natural disaster. In a crisis, information needs to be quickly and reliably delivered to the right place at the right time.
  • Wayan Vota of Development Gateway in the U.S. will combine data generated by citizens and governments into an interactive interface that can be easily accessed and used by average citizens to improve their communities. They will focus on education in three Nairobi slums, and engage the local community and government.

Develop the Next Generation of Condom - Quite simply, condoms save lives but new thinking is needed to ensure that men and women around the world are using them consistently and correctly to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. These projects are working to improve uptake and regular use of male and female condoms by developing new condoms that significantly preserve or enhance pleasure and by developing better packaging or designs that are easier to properly use. Projects include:

  • Benjamin Strutt and a team from Cambridge Design Partnership in the United Kingdom will design a male condom out of a composite material that will provide a universal fit and is designed to gently tighten during intercourse, enhancing sensation and reliability.
  • Willem van Rensburg of Kimbranox Ltd. in South Africa will test a condom applicator, the Rapidom, which is designed for easy, technique-free application of male condoms. Kimbranox will test an applicator designed to be applied with one motion, thereby minimizing interruption.

Labor Saving Innovations for Women Smallholder Farmers - Three quarters of the world’s poorest people get their food and income from farming small plots of land – typically the size of a football field or smaller; most of them labor under difficult conditions, and most of them are women. These projects will explore holistic solutions to boost labor productivity of smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa with a specific emphasis on increasing the productivity of women farmers’ labor to revolutionize current approaches to crop protection, management, and harvesting. Projects include:

  • Mumbi Kimathi and a team from Farm Concern International in Kenya will promote farming-related trade between and around villages in rural Africa with their “e-Women Dial-up Initiative.” They will develop a mobile phone platform for communications, and for ordering and paying for farming-related materials, products, and services.
  • Mustafa Ojonuba Jibrin from Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria will produce a participatory reality TV show to promote the use of draught animals to help female farmers in Nigeria with plowing, ridging, and weeding. The show will feature male and female participants, with incentives to encourage public voting and thereby viewing, to highlight female use of draught animals and increase cultural acceptance of the practice.

New Approaches for Detection, Treatment, and Control of Selected Neglected Tropical Diseases - Neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) are a large and diverse group of diseases that disproportionately affect the poor in the developing world and typically lack attention and funding for research and development. These projects are working to generate novel approaches to the treatment and control of NTDs by improving the detection of parasites; developing drug treatments that are safe, effective, and affordable; and interrupting transmission, with the ultimate goal of ridding the world of these infectious diseases. Projects include:

  • Edwin Routledge of Brunel University in the United Kingdom hopes to develop an artificial snail decoy to attract the parasite Schistosoma mansoni, which causes chronic disease, with the goal of reducing the numbers of humans who are infected. The parasites first develop inside aquatic snails, which they locate via chemical cues (chemoattractants), before they can infect humans.
  • Judy Sakanari of the University of California, San Francisco, and Manu Prakash from Stanford University in the U.S. will develop an inexpensive electromagnetic detection device to identify and diagnose parasitic worms to help infected patients get well faster. Using animal infection models, they will develop an easy-to-use electronic bandage enabling ultrasensitive detection of tissue changes caused by worm movement or physical changes in the adult worms over time following drug treatment. The bandages will ultimately be tested in humans and could be designed to transfer data remotely for real-time monitoring of the effects of drug treatments in the field.

The ‘One Health’ Concept: Bringing Together Human and Animal Health for New Solutions - Over the last century, both human and veterinary medicine have made great advancements. In spite of the many overlaps between the two disciplines, they have become distinctly separate, limiting cross-disciplinary sharing of knowledge. These projects are exploring innovative ideas within the concept of ‘One Health’ to address human and livestock diseases, human nutrition, health service delivery, and measurement of impact. Projects include: 

  • Milosz Faber of Thomas Jefferson University in the U.S. will develop a rabies vaccine that both protects dogs against rabies and reduces their population levels to control the incidence of human rabies. Human rabies causes 70,000 deaths annually and is mostly spread by dogs.
  • George Warimwe of the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom will develop a vaccine to protect a variety of species, including humans, sheep, and cattle, against Rift Valley fever, which can cause serious illness.

GCE Phase II Grants - Also announced today were 13 Phase II GCE grants from countries including China, Ghana, India, and Portugal. Grantees will receive follow-on funding based on promising results from their Phase I GCE work. Projects include:

  • Abi Santhosh Aprem of HLL Lifecare Ltd. in India will continue work coating IUD devices with polymers to increase acceptance of this highly effective contraceptive device.
  • Olufunke Cofie of the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka is working in Ghana to develop and test fortified fertilizer pellets from treated human excreta for market sale. If brought to scale, this product would enhance agricultural productivity and reduce environmental health risks from untreated human waste.
  • Andrew Shennan and colleagues at Kings College London in the United Kingdom will field test in rural Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe a new blood pressure monitor that uses solar power and requires little training to use. The goal is to increase detection rates and improve outcomes of women with preeclampsia in these communities.

Further details on grant awardees can be found here.

Grand Challenges
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving our greatest global health and development issues is a long-term effort. Through the Grand Challenges family of grant programs, the foundation is committed to seeking out and rewarding not only established researchers in science and technology, but also young investigators, entrepreneurs and innovators. The goal is to help expand the pipeline of ideas to fight diseases that claim millions of lives each year and to address other key problems affecting the health of families, mothers, and children.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people—especially those with the fewest resources—have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partnered with Liquidnet For Good on the Increasing Interoperability of Social Good Data topic.

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