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UNICEF and partners showcase child and maternal health innovations

© UNICEF/2009/Herr
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre) visits the UNICEF booth at the Innovation Fair held as part of the High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council in Geneva. At right is UNICEF Communication Specialist Erica Kochi.

GENEVA, Switzerland, 7 July 2009 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the 2009 Innovation Fair held at the UN Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday. The fair is part of the High-Level Segment of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which is meeting here this week with a focus on global health.

UNICEF and partners represented at the fair are presenting new technologies and products that have helped revolutionize child and maternal health care.

"Health is the foundation for peace and prosperity," said Mr. Ban in his address to ECOSOC delegates. "Investments in health are investments in society. They save lives and benefit economies through improved productivity."

'Innovative solutions and best practices'

According to the ECOSOC website, the Innovation Fair aims to "share innovative solutions and best practices in the area of global public health." UNICEF's contributions were selected to meet those criteria.

© UNICEF/2009/Kochi
UNICEF's Seth Herr (left) demonstrates RapidSMS technology at the 2009 Innovation Fair.

Plumpy'nut ready-to-use therapeutic food, for example, has transformed the treatment of severe acute malnutrition. The peanut-based paste requires no water preparation or refrigeration, making it easy to deploy in difficult conditions to treat undernourished children.

In just two years, UNICEF's annual procurement of Plumpy'nut has increased 450 per cent, to 11,000 tonnes. 

Mobile technology, real-time data

In 2008, UNICEF used RapidSMS technology – another innovation showcased in Geneva – to monitor the distribution of Plumpy'nut in Ethiopia. Through RapidSMS, Plumpy'nut supply gaps at local health posts were reported to a central warehouse, which responded with deliveries immediately, instead of weeks later.

RapidSMS allows any mobile phone to interact with the web via SMS text messages. In so doing, it facilitates data collection, logistical coordination and communication. In Ethiopia, the technology was used to compile mobile text message data into real-time reports on therapeutic food stocks.

Compatible with even the most basic mobile phones, RapidSMS leverages existing infrastructure to scale up humanitarian programmes. With RapidSMS, a continuous stream of data offers unique opportunities to react in real time to changes on the ground.

Advances in vaccine safety

Two other products on display at the Innovation Fair, auto-disable syringes and 'fridge-tags', both involve the critical issue of vaccine safety.

Auto-disable syringes are designed to prevent re-use after they have been used the first time. Following one use, the syringes become automatically disabled due to the presence of an internal one-way valve. This advance significantly reduces the incidence of transmission of blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis B and HIV.

In 2008, UNICEF procured over 480 million auto-disable syringes and other safe-injection supplies at a cost of $43 million.

The 'fridge-tag', approved for use by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, enhances vaccine safety by providing a quick and easy way to monitor the temperature at which vaccines are stored or transported. Its digital display indicates whether the vaccine could have been exposed to either freezing conditions or excessive heat at any time during the prior 30 days.

If the fridge-tag is exposed to an out-of-range temperature, an alarm sign appears on the display to warn health workers that the vaccine may be ineffective or unsafe.



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