Innovation, Technology & Partnerships

A Liberian nurse prepares to go inside an Ebola patient ward to draw blood from confirmed patients for testing in Bong County la
A Liberian nurse prepares to go inside an Ebola patient ward to draw blood from confirmed patients for testing in Bong County last October.
Photo credit: Morgana Wingard,USAID

In 2014, USAID partnered with the White House Office of Science and Technology, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Department of Defense to launch Fighting Ebola: A Grand Challenge for Development to seek innovations that would help healthcare workers on the front lines provide better care for and stop the spread of Ebola in West Africa.  In addition to this effort to source valuable innovations during the Ebola Response, USAID has dedicated a team to support bringing modern capabilities in science, technology and private sector partnerships to support Ebola recovery.   This work has been led by the US Global Development Lab and the Global Health Center for Accelerating Impact and Innovation within USAID. 

Numbers at a Glance

14

# of innovations from the Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge.

15,000+

# of health care workers connected to national ministries through mobile phone applications

26,600

# of Ebola healthcare workers and responders who received electronic payments

10

# of private sector partnerships developed to support Ebola recovery needs.
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Innovation

Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge

Launched by President Obama, this $8.9 million Challenge sought to harness the power of crowdsourcing, competition, and partnerships to identify breakthrough innovation to address specific barriers faced by healthcare workers in combatting the Ebola epidemic. In just two months, the Challenge received over 1,500 ideas from around the world. U.S. Government experts and international partners evaluated and selected 14 promising innovations, identified for their potential to reinforce the response to the current Ebola outbreak, as well as future epidemics. The selected innovations fall into six categories: suits and protective layers, healthcare worker tools, reimagined health care settings, decontaminants, behavior change, and information communication technology. Today, 13 of these 14 innovations have been used or tested in the Ebola affected countries. They include:

  • Shift Lab’s DripAssist is a low- cost, battery-powered infusion monitor that tracks the number of drops falling from an IV fluid bag and calculates an accurate flow rate. If the rate changes, an alarm rings, indicating that the drip rate needs to be reset. In October 2015, DripAssist gained FDA approval for human use, and it has now been procured in limited quantities and is in use.
  • In November 2015, TOMI Environmental Solutions brought their decontamination chambers and hydrogen peroxide-based solution, SteraMist, to Liberia for user testing and feedback in collaboration with Project Concern International. In addition to their initial use case of decontaminating health care workers, they also discovered that their solution could be used to decommission treatment centers and decontaminate electronics and vehicles.
  • Collaboration between Johns Hopkins University and Jhpiego has brought about newly designed personal protective equipment for health care workers. Some of the new features include a large face shield, a back zipper with pull tabs, and an improved facemask. DuPont, one of the largest PPE manufacturers, saw the potential in the new suit and signed a licensing agreement with JHU in September 2015.
  • Using a basic mobile phone, IntraHealth’s mHero platform aims to help countries tackle the core communication gaps present in Ebola affected communities by linking national health leaders with health care workers on the frontlines of care. mHero is an SMS-based platform that enables rapid, two-way communication between health care workers and the Ministries of Health.

See our Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge site for more information.

Technology: Communications & Health Information Systems

Healthcare workers’ ability to respond to the Ebola crisis was severely hampered by a lack of communications infrastructure and services. Communities were unable to call for life-saving medical support and healthcare providers were unable to access valuable outside expertise and resources. Thousands of lives could have been saved with better access to accurate and timely information. USAID is supporting Ebola recovery by collaborating with the Governments of Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, the West African Health Organization (WAHO), and a large number of partners to strengthen national health information systems, expand communications infrastructure, and increase and improve the use of digital tools supporting frontline health workers and public health leaders in the region. These investments can significantly improve the quality, timeliness, and value of health information, and enable the kind of data-driven and responsive decision making that can save lives.

Digital Financial Solutions

During the Ebola outbreak, the logistics of transporting cash to pay healthcare worker salaries was a significant challenge in the three Ebola-affected countries. USAID-supported partner, The Better Than Cash Alliance, worked with the Government of Sierra Leone to address this challenge by digitizing hazard payments. Digitization cut payment times from over one month to around one week, helping end payment-related strikes by healthcare workers. Today, USAID has committed to support the Governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone in building on lessons-learned from this experience and expanding e-payment systems for health workers who previously have needed to spend multiple days away from their clinics to collect their salaries in nearby villages.

Geo Information System Analysis

Geospatial analysis and mapping brings a data-driven approach into USAID's planning, prioritization, design, monitoring and evaluation activities. USAID’s GeoCenter has supported Ebola response and recovery planning, helping to identify where resources will have the greatest impact. To date, over 40 maps have been created to support Ebola response and recovery planning. View some of them here: http://tinyurl.com/ebolamaps

Partnerships with the Private Sector

The private sector’s contribution to the Ebola response was unprecedented in many ways. Companies and organizations working in West Africa mobilized to support local, regional and global response efforts and helped stem the tide of the epidemic. To extend the impact and sustainability of Ebola recovery and resilience programming, USAID has worked to develop partnerships with the private sector to co-invest in and catalyze recovery, resilience and sustainable growth in the region over the long-term. Partners include: Chevron, Coca Cola, Pan African Capital, Paul Allen Foundation, Gates Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck Sharp & Dohme.

  • Since the Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge grants began 12 months ago, half of the funded innovations are either in use or available for purchase today.
  • 13 of the 14 Grand Challenge innovations were used, tested, or have plans to be tested, in Liberia, Guinea, or Sierra Leone
  • A USAID-supported smart phone app supported contact tracing for more than 20,000 people who may have come in contact with persons who contracted the Ebola virus.
  • Ministries of Health and USAID partners have used mobile phones to enable real-time, two-way communication with more than 15,000 health workers
  • USAID partners facilitated the payment of more than 26,600 health care workers and responders through electronic payments during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone
  • USAID embedded technical advisors in the Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone Ministries of Health have helped build governance capacity and national strategies for investing in national health information systems

Last updated: October 05, 2017

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