On June 12, Grand Challenges Canada (GCC), a global health initiative interested in generating technological innovations had its government funding, of $161 million, renewed. The funding was acquired for a large-scale initiative developing and testing health innovations for supporting mothers, newborn babies, and children. Ten innovators, who have won grants from Grand Challenges Canada, presented their innovations at SickKids Hospital during a special press showcase event. Some of the initiatives were still in clinical trials, while others were already past the testing stages and are now available.
Christian Paradis, the minister of international development and la Francophonie, spoke at the event, explaining that the funding package is part of a larger funding initiative by Health Canada, This initiative was agreed upon during the G8 Summit in 2010, as a step towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals in the reduction of maternal, infant, and child mortality in less developed countries.
Two of the ten innovators at the event, Brian Hu, the chief technology officer of Sense Intelligent and Leisa Hirtz, the director of Global Medical & Healthcare Innovations, are affiliated with the University of Toronto.
Brian Hu, who worked alongside Professor David McMillian, associate professor with the Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences at U of T, said that he is seeking to “visualize sound for the deaf” in order to “enable them to speak at the right pitch, and recognize words more accurately, through reading on a visualized scale” as opposed to reading the shape of the person’s mouth.
Hu presented a second-gen gadget — an app for a tablet — and explained that each word or sound has a unique pattern on the visualized scale. He believes that with training, one can learn to recognize the pitch and length of words by their visual characteristics. Hu explained that deafness prevents one from being aware of his or her audio surroundings and limits one’s ‘hearing’ to the shape of the mouth of the person whom they are speaking to. This gadget could be life-altering for people with hearing disabilities and could potentially save lives in emergency situations.
Sense Intelligent is currently advancing to another stage of clinical trials with Luzhou Medical College in the Sichuan province in China.
Another initiative of the GCC is the kit pictured above, which was developed by Leisa Hirtz. It consists primarily of a silicon cup that is an affordable, and environmentally friendly alternative to disposable menstruation products often used in the developed world. Hirtz explains that the cup can be used for up to 10 years. The cup is affordable in less-developed countries due to the fact that its main material is silicon. The cup can also be cleaned easily with water.
Also, Hirtz explained that the social enterprise has developed a “social entrepreneurial program,” which “matches every purchase in the developed world with an equivalent one in developing world,” and highlights that in Africa, to-date, there are 3,000 beneficiaries of the product.
Hirtz, also pointed to a new component of the kit, which is the cervical cup, used for the prevention of pregnancy. Hirtz explains that the cervical cup is currently undergoing clinical trials, and research suggests it has an 88 per cent effectiveness as a contraceptive. The cervical cup is discrete, and can be inserted 48 hours prior to sexual intercourse.
Both innovations, alongside others at the event, are currently being developed to be affordable for, and accessible to, underprivileged and marginalized people in less-developed countries.