July 30, 2013 | The Editors

Assessing 40 ideas to save mothers’ lives

As a business analyst for PATH, Tara Herrick’s job is to scrutinize technologies, looking for those with the most potential for success. Health impact models, cost analyses, and market research are all familiar terrain.

“But one piece of data that’s always coming across my desk is the large number of maternal deaths in the poorest countries. I try to make sense of it,” says Tara with a shake of her head. “It’s not acceptable, especially since there are a lot of exciting opportunities to help within reach.

“So how do we identify the most promising opportunities for the women who need them most?” she continues.

Four pregnant women, smiling.
A new tool helps assess promising health technologies for mothers. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

Choosing among good ideas

In global health, you have to make the most of scarce resources and figure out which ideas are most likely to address complex health needs. That’s what Tara and her colleagues at PATH had the opportunity to explore with funding from Merck for Mothers—Merck’s ten-year initiative to reduce maternal mortality.

The project team set out to develop a tool that could be used to assess 40 technologies for their impact on the two biggest killers of women during pregnancy, in childbirth, and shortly after delivery—postpartum hemorrhage, which is excessive bleeding within 24 hours after birth, and preeclampsia or eclampsia, which are high blood pressure disorders.

The team of maternal health experts, business analysts, and product developers created a data-driven approach to decision-making powered by familiar tool: an Excel spreadsheet.

Big picture of technology’s potential

Tara and her colleagues identified nearly 20 criteria to help measure the impact of each of the 40 technologies on their list. Criteria included factors such as performance, cost, and existing financial support. They assigned a numerical score to each.

In addition, they weighted each of the criteria based on its relative influence on a technology’s potential for success. That way, Tara explains, each technology received a numerical score to assist in comparative analysis. The tool shows each technology in a “stoplight” view—red, yellow, and green indicating a product’s likely success in each area—to get a big picture of its potential.

The tool helped the PATH team identify a short list of technologies from the original 40—those with the most potential to impact postpartum hemorrhage, preeclampsia, and eclampsia and save women’s lives—based on the parameters the team set.

A better use of resources

Now, PATH is making the resource, called the strategic prioritization tool, available to anyone who has a need to assess health technologies. The tool is designed so that users can provide and weight their own data to suit their individual needs.

“As the global health community moves toward more data-driven decisions with more emphasis on outcomes,” says Tara, “we hope this tool will be valuable to others by advancing the technologies most likely help people.’”

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