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Attention health hackers: Global initiative will fund innovation where it’s needed most

BSR/PSP Branch Chief
Chief, Population and Social Processes Branch,
Division of Behavioral and Social Research (DBSR)

Wonders from a developing world: a pediatric ventilator made from a shampoo bottle and plastic tubing. A simple solution of water, sugar, and salt to hydrate children with life-threatening diarrhea when IVs are too expensive. A $45 prosthetic foot instead of one that costs $12,000.

These are all examples of “jugaad,” a Hindi word meaning an inexpensive but effective hack that uses available materials. They were born out of necessity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)—mainly in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean—that lack the high-tech health care that wealthier countries often take for granted. By the year 2050, LMICs will also be home to the bulk of the planet’s nearly 1 billion people over age 65.

In the early ‘90s, when I (John H.) lived in Bangladesh working on maternal and child health, the TV show “MacGyver” was wildly popular. The globetrotting hero righted wrongs not by carrying a gun, but through his scientific knowledge, using whatever materials were on hand, like duct tape and a paper clip. There’s something about making the best of nothing much that appeals deeply to all of us.

Inspired by the do-it-yourself spirit in these poorer countries, NIA is proud to announce a new funding opportunity as part of the National Academy of Medicine’s (NAM) Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge to spark low-cost healthy aging innovations where they are needed most. Academies of science and medicine in several countries are on board with this initiative, and several NIA grantees are part of a newly formed NAM advisory committee.

Grand initiative, great opportunities

Older adults in lower-income zip codes deal with the same ailments as peers in wealthier locales: chronic or disabling health conditions; loss of vision, hearing, or mobility; and incontinence. But transportation and financial gaps make it tough to get simple assistive devices or corrective medical procedures, especially in rural areas. External investors avoid these poorer areas, too. Less than 3 percent of all global venture capital goes to LMICs aside from China, and modest public-sector investment cannot make up the ground.

As a NAM healthy longevity collaborator, NIA is betting on the spirit of jugaad to spotlight clever and reasonably priced solutions for healthy aging products, devices, or techniques that lack seed funding. Relatively small investments in these ideas could yield big benefits for older people across the world.

Apply to bring your inspiration to life

NIA has unveiled a funding opportunity for up to 10 R03 awards in support of the Grand Challenge’s goals. Our competition is open to ideas for use in low-income regions in higher-income nations, as well as LMICs. Wherever and whomever it helps—from Appalachia to the Mississippi Delta, from inner cities to Inuit country—all inspirations are welcome. International and trans-NIH collaborations are encouraged.

We are eager to help turn your eureka moments into tangible technologies. If you’re a medical MacGyver whose health hack has what it takes, it’s time to accept the challenge and apply by the February 1, 2020 deadline! We look forward to your applications and welcome your questions or comments below.


Submitted by Jonathan Millen on October 23, 2019

Is this funding opportunity specifically for medical devices only or would training technique/technology development also be considered?

It is not restricted to medical devices.  Anything that helps people to stay healthy as they age is eligible.

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