Global health innovators mobilize to help developing countries combat COVID-19

Grand Challenges Canada innovators offer resources, ideas, affordable solutions for low-resource countries in need of pandemic essentials: medical oxygen, ventilators, masks, more.

Man manipulating oxygen tanks.

Assist International, one of four Grand Challenges Canada projects devoted to medical oxygen supplies, will increase capacity to supply additional oxygen as COVID-19-related demand increases. / Photo: Assist International - Grand Challenges Canada

EurekAlert | Grand Challenges Canada

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Novel, affordable ways to acquire medical oxygen, ventilators, masks and other critically-needed COVID-19 supplies and services are among 20 Grand Challenges Canada innovations mobilizing to assist developing countries through the global pandemic.

In the past decade, the innovations received GCC support in several forms, including over $19 million dollars provided by the Government of Canada, based on the criteria of "bold ideas with big impact" in global health. These project now offer critical resources, ideas and solutions for low-resource countries struggling to meet an acute need for affordable, locally-sourced products and services, most urgently:

  • Medical oxygen, ventilators and related training
  • Local manufacturing of personal protective equipment for health care workers
  • Life-saving information for hard-to-reach populations

Says Karina Gould, Canada's Minister of International Development: "To overcome the unprecedented global health challenges presented by COVID-19, the world needs innovation and ingenuity. Over the past 10 years, Canada's funding for Grand Challenges Canada has helped hundreds of innovative ideas become a reality. Today, some of those very ideas are saving lives by helping people prevent and respond to COVID-19 and other health challenges in developing countries."

Adds GCC co-CEO Dr. Karlee Silver: "Innovation in global health means provisioning low-resource areas with needed goods and services that are better, faster and cheaper. Such solutions take time to develop, scale up, and evaluate as they transition to scale."

"With Canadian Government funding, we have supported a portfolio of solutions over the past 10 years that are particularly relevant to the developing world's COVID-19 response. It is during times like these that the value of investment in innovation becomes most obvious."

"Grand Challenges Canada is lending expertise and other support to the innovators as they focus on the pandemic, and several will receive additional funding as needed to help accelerate their response to COVID-19. Many others among GCC's 228 active innovation projects are working to mitigate the fallout of COVID-19 on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health services disrupted by pandemic control measures," says Dr. Silver.

"We have been guided by local governments' needs, with locally supplied medical oxygen topping the list -- a resource in tragically short supply and high demand throughout much of the developing world."

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The innovators leading these 20 solutions are based in 11 countries -- Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Australia, Canada and the United States -- and operate in low-resource areas throughout Africa and beyond, from the Amazon to the Himalayas.

  • 4 projects provide medical oxygen
  • 2 produce rugged, battery backed-up ventilators
  • 1 is pivoting from affordable locally-produced sanitary pads to low-cost masks
  • 2 offer innovative diagnostic / imaging equipment
  • 7 support remote patient care, monitoring and essential products delivery
  • 1 supports mental health care
  • 2 support safe water, sanitation and hygiene
  • 1 supports at-home education


1) Assist International (USA)

2) Hewa Tele (Kenya)

3) University of Alberta / Global Health Uganda Ltd. (Canada / Uganda)

4) FREO2 Foundation (Australia)


1) Gradian Health Systems Inc. (USA)

2) OneBreath Inc. (USA / India)


1) Saral Design Solutions Private Limited (India)

Diagnostics and imaging

1) Atomo Diagnostics Limited (Australia)

2) KA Imaging (Waterloo, Canada)

Monitoring, information technology

1) WelTel Incorporated (Vancouver, Canada)

WelTel Health from Spintech IT on Vimeo.

2) Praekelt.org (South Africa)

3) TNH Digital Health Limited (Brazil)

Mental health

1) Friendship Bench Digital, Zimbabwe

Remote care and supplies

1) North Star Alliance East Africa (Kenya)

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2) Friendship Bangladesh (Bangladesh)

3) Healthy Entrepreneurs Uganda (Uganda)

4) Karma Primary Healthcare Services Private Ltd. (India)

Water, sanitation, hygiene

1) Max Foundation (Bangladesh)

2) Water Sanitation Hygiene Enterprise Development Cambodia (Cambodia)

Educational services

1) Ubongo Learning Ltd. (Tanzania)