Projects in Colombia and Peru win Social Innovation in Health prizes

Washington, December 9, 2019 -- Projects to identify infants exposed to Zika virus in Colombia, to improve maternal health in rural communities of the Peruvian Amazon, and to increase nutrition in rural Colombian communities were among the winners of 2019 Social Innovation in Health Initiative awards announced by the Pan American Health Organization. Launched in 2014, the Social Innovation in Health Initiative (SIHI) is led by the Special Program for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases (TDR) hosted by WHO and cosponsored by UNDP, UNICEF and the World Bank. SIHI is supported by The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).

The 2019 call implemented the SIHI selection standards and processes and worked with an independent international external panel of ten prominent experts in innovations for health, entrepreneurship and implementation research. This 2019 call was published in the SIHI website.   

In Colombia, the National Institute of Health won for its intensified surveillance program for Zika Virus infection in infants worked closely with families and led to new public policies that benefit infants who were exposed to Zika by expanding health access and benefits that reach them and their families.

In Peru, a rural maternal health program in the Peruvian Amazon, Mamás del Río, or Mothers of the River, won for its community health promotion efforts for pregnant mothers and newborns in 84 communities in the province of Loreto.

In the rural community of Sumapaz in Colombia, an initiative to advance nutrition by improving food production practices won for its success in reducing malnutrition and improving health statistics using good agricultural practices.

Winning projects

Recommendations for the care and follow-up of the pediatric patient with prenatal exposure to the ZIKA virus, of the National Institute of Health of Colombia; Thanks to the intensified surveillance programs established during the Zika epidemic in Colombia (October 2015 to July 2016) over 18,000 symptomatic pregnant women and 1,239 infants with birth defects in the Central Nervous System (CNS) were identified, associating 356 cases to congenital Zika infection. The follow-up of a group of infants with prenatal exposure and their families, led to the identification of the pattern of birth defects that constitute the Congenital Zika Syndrome and its major associated disorders. The assessment of infants exposed to Zika and without apparent birth defects showed that 39% of this population were at risk of hearing and language development problems with 3% suffering from hearing loss. These findings led to public policies geared towards: 1) expanding the preferential and defined life cycle group coverage for children under eighteen years of age, in the Health Benefits Plan in force as of January 2019 ( Resolution 5857 of 2018); 2) Categorizing as children at high risk those who were exposed to Zika during gestation and giving them access to comprehensive pediatric evaluation, and supplementing general medicine or family medicine services with pediatricians and the Comprehensive Routes of Health Care services (Resolution 3280 of 2018) expanding the benefits and access to specialized services, appropriate to the needs of this children and families, and supported by health policies.  

Mamás del Río, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Peru: This is a program aimed at improving maternal and neonatal health in rural communities of the Peruvian Amazon and that by mid-2019 was benefiting 84 communities in 3 districts of Loreto. Mamás del Río trains community health agents to conduct home visits to pregnant women and their families and to use a tablet and an app, share educational content for the community and gather information about the health of mothers and their babies, and pregnant women, and pass it on to the team with the health decision-making skills. Community awareness-raising activities are also carried out and midwives and staff in the jurisdiction's health centers are trained for networking. The pilot program was deployed in 13 communities in the Parinari district of Loreto and led to: an increase in the percentage of women with prenatal control in the first trimester; the doubling of the percentage of women who had an institutional birth; and a 15 fold increase in the rate of moms who applied to have the national identity document of their newborns within the first month of life. The program is aiming to soon extend to at least 20 communities of the Peruvian-Colombian border, and to continue in the 84 communities of Loreto.

The Comprehensive Model of Health Care for Rurality is led by the Integrated Subnet for the Provision of Southern Health Services that contributes to the improvement in access, care and quality of the health of the rural community of Sumapaz in the south of Bogota, Colombia. It comprises several innovative strategies that integrate scientific and community knowledge, developing a constant dialogue of knowledges while developing processes of empowerment and social appropriation of implemented practices. The initiative started in 2011 and its results include a healthier environment with the increase in the variety of plants species in the forests of the Chaquén Public Health Theme Park. This initiative has recovered ancestral species and increased production of edible plants foods of high nutritional value and quality. For example, increasing access to healthy food with the production of 6 species of fruit trees in orchards managed by homeowners in the community, engaging 1496 people that represent 90% of the visitors from the park. Good agricultural practices have been encouraged, such as the elimination of pesticides by 35 participating families. The Rural School of Managing Farmer Leaders in Sovereignty and Food and Nutritional Security of Sumapaz was established which has the support of the National University of Colombia. Timely actions and networking are reflected in substantial improvements in indicators of maternal and perinatal mortality, respiratory disease and malnutrition, among others.  

Case studies and a video will be prepared to describe the impact and details of each recognized initiative. These initiatives are also joining the SIHI network of social innovators to participate in capacity building activities geared towards strengthening their sustainability and growth, the replication or adaption of the innovative solutions in other settings. Also, to develop further research with their evolving work and to participate in learning exchanges with peers and other social innovation experts. PAHO will recognize the awardees at the celebration of the Universal Health Day, and locally.