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Eight bold innovators selected for $1 M in funding


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Eight bold innovators selected for $1 M in funding

African scientists propose solutions to reduce maternal, neonatal and child death on the Continent

Nairobi, Kenya, 28 September 2017 –  The African Academy of Sciences and the NEPAD Agency’s Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA) today announced funding for eight African innovators to tackle maternal, neonatal and child health on the Continent.

The funding, through AESA’s Grand Challenges Africa, will support researchers in Kenya, Madagascar and Senegal who were selected from among about 400 applicants from 20 African countries. The first round of the Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Seed Grants (GCA-ISG) supported in partnership with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Institut Pasteur of Paris.

The GCA-ISG are part of the Grand Challenges Africa Innovation Grants that fund innovations that seek solutions and strategies that will help Africa achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Grand Challenges Africa is a scheme that issues annual calls for proposals for seed and scale-up grants.

The eight winners of the 2017 first seed grants will each receive about US$100,000 for two years to implement projects that range from a portable system to detect the Zika virus to the diagnosis of maternal bacterial infections. The ultimate goal is to improve maternal, neonatal and child health outcomes on a continent which accounts for more than half of global maternal deaths and more than three-quarters of neonatal deaths. 

Today, an African woman faces a 1 in 31 chance of dying from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth, compared to 1 in 4,300 in the developed world. More than half of maternal deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are directly or indirectly attributed to infectious causes such as HIV, malaria, sepsis and sexually transmitted diseases. Infections and complications related to preterm births account for 88% of newborn deaths.

“Too many African women are still dying during child birth unnecessarily,” said Tom Kariuki, AESA Director, adding: “We are harnessing Africa’s best talent to transform maternal health and save lives of mothers and their children.”

Institut Pasteur is supporting two innovators selected from IP institutes in Africa. The partnership with Institut Pasteur seeks to promote intra-African collaboration and promote the sharing of skills and ideas within grand challenges projects.

“GC Africa builds local and global partnerships for innovations that maximise impact on health outcomes in Africa," said Evelyn Gitau, Grand Challenges Africa Programme Manager. 

The eight innovators, whose backgrounds range from academia to community work, are drawn from African universities, government laboratories, research institutions and non-profit organisations.

Five of the innovators are from Kenya, including Galgallo Adi, a community worker in Marsabit, who is developing solar-powered bracelets to monitor the health of pregnant women in the pastoral Samburu community.

“The Grand Challenges Africa scheme is providing African innovators with much needed resources to find home grown solutions for the health challenges facing our people”, says Adi. “Women are the cornerstone of society, ensuring their families’ nutritional and economic needs are met. We shouldn’t be losing any of them during child birth, which is why such a scheme aimed at improving maternal health is key.”

Notes to Editors

About the innovations of the selected grantees


Jesse Gitaka, a lecturer at Mount Kenya University

Project-Rapid diagnosis of maternal bacterial infections

Gitaka is developing a point of care diagnostic for bacterial infections that have been implicated in poor pregnancy outcomes such as premature deliveries, still births, maternal and newborn sepsis and deaths.

Dahabo Adi Galgallo, Innovator, Marsabit County, Kenya

Project- GPS tracking device to improve health outcomes of expectant mothers in pastoral communities

Galgallo is developing a waterproof, coin-sized, solar-powered GPS-tracking device that will be fitted into cultural jewellery of expectant mothers in pastoralist and nomadic communities so health workers can easily locate and provide them with pre and antenatal care where they are.

Angela Koech Etyang, Physician Scientist, Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health and Instructor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Aga Khan University – Nairobi

Project-Integration of a package of point of care tests into rural primary care facilities to improve access to basic antenatal screening

The project aims to make basic screening tests available to pregnant women at dispensaries and health centres that do not have laboratory facilities for conditions such as HIV, syphilis and anaemia, which can treatable once detected. Many women in rural Africa who visit dispensaries and health centres for care during pregnancy are referred to off-site laboratories for tests resulting in delays in testing, starting treatment for women with abnormal results and in some cases women missing tests altogether.

Eric Ogola, Epidemiologist, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science & Technology and PhD Student, University of Nairobi

Project – Rational antibiotic use for treatment of sick children in local health facilities

Ogola is developing an easier way to decide which antibiotic to use in blood-borne infections in children less than one month old to reduce deaths in children as a result of blood-borne infections.

Christine Musyimi, Head of Research Ethics and Scientific Publications Office, Africa Mental Health Foundation

Project- Engaging Traditional Birth Attendants to reduce maternal depression in rural Kenya (Engage-TBA)

The project will engage traditional birth attendants to provide mental healthcare to mothers during the perinatal period to improve access to basic mental health care in under-resourced areas while linking mothers to primary health care, to ensure safe deliveries and reduce complicated births, low birth weight. Incomplete schedules of immunisation in children will also be prevented.



Niaina Rakotosamimanana, Head of the Mycobacteria Unit, Pasteur Institute of Madagascar

Project -A low-cost tuberculosis diagnostic test for pregnant women

Rakotosamimanana is developing a low-cost tuberculosis diagnostic and molecular test for pregnant women using dried blood samples drawn from finger pricks. This dried-blood spot based test is minimally invasive, can be used in remote areas and has direct impact on health outcomes. Dried-blood samples have a wide range of diagnostic capacity and have advantages over other biological samples in terms of cost, ease of collection, transport, and storage.


Diawo Diallo, Medical Entomologist, Institut Pasteur de Dakar, Senegal

Project – Tracking Zika infected mosquitoes to improve maternal and neonatal health

Diallo will validate and implement a timely and up-to-date surveillance system of zika virus prevalence in the mosquito population using an innovative integrated device developed by Gopaul from Institut Pasteur in Paris.


Muriel Vray, Epidemiologist, Institut Pasteur of Dakar, Senegal

Project- Evaluating hepatitis B virus DNA levels in Senegal

Vray is evaluating a simple, robust and inexpensive assay to determine hepatitis B virus DNA levels in Senegal. The presence of HBV DNA indicates if patients have chronic HBV infection and place them at greater risk for serious liver disease and being more infectious than patients with inactive HBV infection. With the hepatitis B virus now constituting of the health targets in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, it’s important to be able to detect and determine DNA levels to improve intervention strategies.