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Innovation key to achieving SDGs

By Nicholas Diamond

In January 2016, 193 world leaders at the United Nations implemented the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Each of the 17 SDGs outline strategies to end extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030. Building on the progress made by the Millennium Development Goals, the SDGs prioritise people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership to build a more sustainable world. The SDGs implicate all countries and all stakeholders and call upon industry leaders to address these initiatives.  

The biotech industry has the potential to make significant contributions to the SDGs through the use of innovation, entrepreneurship and sustainable resources to advance population health. Using a biotech approach to advance population health is crosscutting and aligns with nearly all 17 SDGs. 

Similar to efforts made by the biotech industry, the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech), based at Massachusetts General Hospital Global Health, has focused its efforts on addressing the SDGs by creating shared value in global health. CAMTech identifies pressing clinical needs from the field, crowdsources innovative solutions and accelerates the cycle from idea to patient impact. Since 2012, CAMTech has leveraged its neutral broker status to convene a diverse and collaborative set of stakeholders with a goal of impactful innovation, bringing together over 4,370 innovators, 650 mentors and 730 organisations to design more than 830 innovations. 

Using innovation to mitigate infectious disease outbreaks and improve maternal and child health has proved impactful. CAMTech hackathons, 48-hour events in which a group of curated individuals from different backgrounds come together to drive innovation in healthcare, have allowed clinicians, public health professionals, engineers and entrepreneurs to act as first responders to infectious disease outbreaks like Ebola and Zika. Several hackathons, bootcamps and innovation awards have also focused on improving maternal and child health and closing the gender gap in medtech.  

During CAMTech’s 2014 Stop Ebola hackathon, innovators designed an Ebola Treatment Unit that integrates culturally sensitive infection control and training methods in rural settings. Team ProxiMe innovated a voice-controlled bracelet that monitors heart rate and temperature, as well as alerting healthcare workers of potential problems to enable more targeted responses given the long times taken for donning and doffing personal protective equipment.  

At CAMTech’s 2016 Zika Innovation Hackathon, innovators created mosquito protective apparel, a surveillance technique for detecting Zika and dengue infections in mosquitos, a plastic strip that changes colour when in contact with saliva samples of the Zika and dengue viruses in patients, a mosquito trap and a larvicide dispenser. Each of these innovations won funding and support through the CAMTech Accelerator Program to move from ideation to commercialisation and patient impact.  

Based out of the CAMTech Uganda Co-Creation Lab, innovators designed EcoSmart Pads, which are sanitary pads made from locally available sugarcane fibre, which makes them commercially viable for women and girls from low-resource environments. Growing out of Uganda’s budding medtech ecosystem, EcoSmart Pads represents a product by women – for women, that harnesses affordable, locally-sourced materials and addresses local health challenges.    

Applying CAMTech’s co-creation model, which assembles multidisciplinary teams of clinicians, public health professionals, engineers and entrepreneurs, to biotech would accelerate the industry’s technology production. By fostering innovations focused on infectious disease outbreaks and maternal and child health, the biotech industry could also make significant strides in ending extreme poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.

Nicholas Diamond, MPH, is the Marketing and Communications Manager for the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) at Massachusetts General Hospital Global Health. 


This article appeared in our recent special edition on biotechnology


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