Global Health Innovation Accelerator
In August 2014, the SAMRC and PATH formed the Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA) as a partnership to address the gaps and barriers in the health innovation ecosystem in South Africa and to enhance the ability of both organizations to meet their respective mandates. GHIA is aimed at facilitating the late stage development and introduction of affordable and appropriate technologies in South Africa and Africa more broadly.
By: Jeff Bernson, Bhavya Gowda, Michelle Mulder, Darin Zehrung
The Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA) transforms good ideas into new health products or services that address the health needs of resource limited settings.
Twice a month, Sizwe Nzime would ride his bicycle to the local health center as a favour to his grandmother. It was too far for her to walk, and she did not want to spend the money on transport to get there. Even when she did go to the health center, she would sometimes wait hours to get her medicine. Sizwe realised that many other families faced these same challenges. So, when his grandmother began to tell her friends about Sizwe’s deliveries, he saw an opportunity. For a small fee, he could deliver medicines to patients—helping ensure easy, inexpensive, and reliable availability of medicine to everyone, particularly those with chronic diseases.
His idea quickly took off. Sizwe turned two wheels and the love of his grandmother into a budding health care business. Called Iyeza Express, Sizwe and his business partner Siraaj Adams led the establishment of a team of bicycle couriers who deliver medications to patients in Khayelitsha, a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. However, as the business grew, Sizwe knew he couldn’t do it alone. Iyeza Express was selected to be part of the Global Health Innovation Accelerator (GHIA) program, which provided him with the financial and technical support he needed to make Iyeza Express a success.
GHIA: helping home-grown innovations thrive
GHIA began in 2014 when the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and PATH partnered to support entrepreneurial and innovative organisations like Iyeza making a difference in the health of communities. GHIA identifies promising innovations from research organisations and companies using SAMRC and PATH’s networks and sends these innovations to a Technical Advisory Committee for review. Those innovations that meet the screening criteria join GHIA’s portfolio and have access to a range of support. Innovators are connected to scientific and technical expertise, funding, and networks of researchers, engineers, and business minds from both PATH and the SAMRC. This unique partnership helps local innovators break through the barriers to developing and introducing health technologies in South Africa and the African continent to ultimately accelerate the impact of these technologies.
The GHIA team worked with Iyeza Express to develop the mobile platform to streamline pickup and delivery of medicines like antiretrovirals and metformin to elderly and home-based patients around Khayelitsha. By digitising the process, Iyeza could expand its customer base to other areas of Cape Town and begin looking for further opportunities to expand throughout South Africa.
The motivation behind GHIA is simple: rooting innovation in the communities that can benefit from it the most. Driven, talented, and inspired people like Sizwe are in every community in South Africa—and around the world. They have a different perspective on the challenges communities face to accessing quality health care services and products. By expanding the opportunities to South African organisations and innovators, GHIA is bolstering Africa’s health innovation engine while making a positive impact on the health of communities.
Moving innovations from idea to scale
Iyeza Express is one of the nine innovations that make up GHIA’s current portfolio. New medical devices, diagnostics, and digital health tools designed by local innovators from research institutions and companies are addressing maternal and child health, HIV, and non-communicable diseases.
- Ellavi is an inexpensive uterine balloon tamponade (UBT) designed to stop post-partum hemorrhage when other interventions fail.  https://ellavi.com/
- The Genital Inflammation Diagnostic Test (GIFT) is a device that can identify genital inflammation in women to help diagnose and treat sexually transmitted infections. https://samrc.ac.za/sites/default/files/attachments/2022-05/GenitalInflammationTest.pdf
- Umbiflow measures the blood flow in the umbilical artery to help identify fetuses at risk of still birth caused by abnormal placental function. https://www.csir.co.za/umbiflow-low-cost-doppler-ultrasound
- Health Connect is a digital solution to develop and manage applications that can be used by South Africa’s public health system to augment health service delivery. https://samrc.ac.za/sites/default/files/attachments/2022-05/AnIntegratedMobileHealthPlatform_0.pdf
- A new broad-spectrum bismuth-based microbicide. https://samrc.ac.za/sites/default/files/attachments/2022-05/Bismuth.pdf
- A prototype kit is being developed to screen patients for early detection of diabetes before the appearance of clinical symptoms. https://samrc.ac.za/sites/default/files/attachments/2022-05/EarlyStageDiabetesMarkers_0.pdf
- Protein to creatinine ratio diagnostic is a urine test that improves accuracy of pre-eclampsia screenings for pregnant women. https://path.azureedge.net/media/documents/FINAL_DFID-DAWN-PrCr-fs-June_2019.pdf
- A new fast-dissolving heat-stable form of the drug oxytocin can be placed under a woman’s tongue to help prevent post-partum hemorrhage. https://path.azureedge.net/media/documents/DFID-DAWN-SL-oxy-fs-May2019.pdf
These innovations are each at different stages of development and supported by a range of donors like the UK’s Department for International Development, the SAMRC and the South African Department of Science and Innovation. GHIA is helping each overcome a different set of challenges towards market implementation. With the Umbiflow, GHIA is conducting a series of market assessments in key locations to help navigate regulations, policies, and procurement channels to ensure successful product introduction. In the case of the Ellavi UBT, GHIA continues to work with Sinapi Biomedical, a South African manufacturer, to bring this low-cost, high-quality product to low- and middle-income countries. Most recently, PATH and SAMRC have secured additional funding to support the introduction of some of these innovations so that women around the continent will have access to lifesaving products like the Ellavi UBT.
This year, the first innovation is graduating from GHIA’s portfolio. Iyeza Express has evolved into a successful, sustainable business – that no longer requires GHIA’s direct guidance or assistance. It has already delivered more than 300,000 parcels, created 20 new jobs, and reduced the non-collection of chronic medications by 20%. Iyeza Express will continue to inspire entrepreneurs throughout South Africa and have a strong future ahead of them.
Five years: just the start.
One of the biggest unspoken successes of GHIA is the common understanding, trust, and high standards that it has developed among SAMRC, PATH, and the innovators. In five years, GHIA has achieved more than either organisation or innovator could have alone. Through strong partnerships like GHIA, the global approach to innovation is moving closer to the communities, organisations, and entrepreneurs like Sizwe who experience barriers firsthand. We are moving to an age where innovation prioritises countries and communities that have often been overlooked, and more efforts are focused on scaling up the best ideas that have the best chance of making a positive impact. GHIA continues to seek out these ideas and build new relationships that move the country, the continent, and the world forward.
Both SAMRC and PATH know the role promising innovations have in realising global health impact and a vision of health equity. It is the power of partnerships like GHIA that enable us to achieve this vision.
PATH is a global organisation that works to accelerate health equity by bringing together public institutions, businesses, social enterprises, and investors to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges. With expertise in science, health, economics, technology, advocacy, and dozens of other specialties, PATH develops and scales solutions—including vaccines, drugs, devices, diagnostics, and innovative approaches to strengthening health systems worldwide. Learn more at http://www.path.org/.
The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) is the leading local funder of health research in South Africa. The SAMRC funds and conducts research through a number of intra-mural and extra-mural research and grant programmes that are aimed at addressing South Africa’s burden of disease and key health priorities. These programmes cover the full range of research types, including epidemiology, health systems research, basic laboratory science, product development, clinical research and implementation science, and the organisation places an emphasis on translating this research into health impact by ensuring that it influences policy and practice and results in new or improved health solutions in the form of products and services. Learn more at http://www.samrc.ac.za.
 The Ellavi uterine balloon tamponade is funded with UK aid from the British people. Previous funding was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the US Agency for International Development (USAID). The clinical studies have been funded by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) under the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (SHIP) program with funds from the South African Department of Science and Innovation (DSI).
 Umbiflow™ was developed by the SAMRC and the CSIR under a grant from the former Innovation Fund, a DST-funded vehicle established to support local innovation. It was born out of the extensive research and development at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Stellenbosch University Medical School and Tygerberg Hospital. It is currently being funded by the SAMRC with funds from the DSI and the National Department of Health and Grand Challenges Canada.
 The diabetes biomarker development has been funded through a Danish partnership and by the SAMRC with funds from the DSI and the National Department of Health
 Funding for PrCr has been provided by the US Agency for International Development Saving Lives at Birth, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Merck for Mothers and South African Medical Research Council under the Grand Challenges South Africa: All Children Thriving Programme grant to LifeAssay Diagnostics, and UK Department for International Development.
 Funding for fast-dissolving oxytocin has been provided by private foundations and individual donors to the Health Innovation Portfolio at PATH and from a grant from the Saving Lives at Birth partners: the United States Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the World Bank, and the UK Department for International Development.
GHIA combines the local context experience and networks, human and financial resources and research and development project portfolio of the SAMRC with PATH’s in-house product development and commercialization expertise, network of international health technology companies, international footprint in developing countries and global funding and advocacy network. GHIA’s value proposition is thus the combination of offerings from two reputable organisations with demonstrated success in utilizing resources to drive health impact and commercialization.
The ultimate goal of GHIA's work is to strengthen the health innovation ecosystem in South Africa, to deliver new health solutions, and to drive positive social health impact through its programs and projects.
On 26 March 2021, the SAMRC, Technology Innovation Agency and Department of Science and Innovation launched the new Medical Device and Diagnostic Innovation Cluster (MeDDIC) under GHIA. http://meddic.samrc.ac.za/
Below is a snapshot of the main activities undertaken by GHIA and MeDDIC
GHIA has completed a landscape analysis of the medical devices sector in South Africa. The report was presented at a Medical Devices Stakeholder Forum event on 17 March 2022. (SAMRC Medical Devices Landscape Report 2022)
For funders, GHIA offers the potential to de-risk projects and to enhance the probability of success by presenting projects that have been through a thorough due diligence process, that respond to a clear market need, that are technically sound and backed by strong academic networks, and that are rigorously managed by experienced project managers to deliver on defined milestones. GHIA also addresses social imperatives by focusing on technologies aimed at improving health outcomes for vulnerable populations.
Core support for GHIA has been provided through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in-kind contributions from the SAMC and PATH.
- Tony Bunn
- Ralph Schneiderman