May 21, 2012

SPH receives Grand Challenges Explorations grant

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health is a winner of a grant from Grand Challenges Explorations, a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Alain Labrique, director of the Johns Hopkins University Global mHealth Initiative, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled “mTikka—Harnessing a Mobile-Cloud System to Achieve Universal Vaccination.”

Grand Challenges Explorations funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Labrique’s mHealth Initiative project is one of more than 100 Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 grants announced this month by the foundation.

“Grand Challenges Explorations encourages individuals worldwide to expand the pipeline of ideas where creative, unorthodox thinking is most urgently needed,” said Chris Wilson, director of Global Health Discovery and Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “We’re excited to provide additional funding for select grantees so that they can continue to advance their idea toward global impact.”

To receive funding, Labrique and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 8 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in one of five critical global health and development topic areas that included agriculture development, immunization and nutrition.

Labrique is an assistant professor in the departments of International Health and Epidemiology and is the founding director of the JHU Global mHealth Initiative, a universitywide consortium of faculty and students involved in mHealth research and innovation. An epidemiologist with a background in infectious diseases and molecular biology, Labrique has been engaged in the design and conduct of large population-based research studies in rural South Asia for more than a decade, testing strategies to improve maternal, neonatal and child nutrition and survival. He and his colleagues at the JiVitA Maternal and Child Health Research Project, working in close partnership with the Government of Bangladesh Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and social enterprise partner mPower-Health, have studied the emergence and impact of mobile phones as part of a complex rural health ecosystem.

mTikka is a virtual vaccine registry that will be pilot tested in rural, remote areas in Bangladesh, where vaccination coverage is 44 to 60 percent lower than the national average. It aims to remove the barriers to achieving high immunization coverage in rural Bangladesh by utilizing an electronic, cloud-based system for infant enumeration and registration, vaccination record keeping, incentivizing and interactive knowledge and belief assessment about vaccination.

The project is designed to focus on the poorest and hardest-to-reach segments of the population, helping to identify in real time regions where vaccine coverage is limited, and to permit community-based, targeted interventions aimed at increasing immunization coverage. mTikka will also provide an alternative to traditional record keeping by allowing parents, providers and vaccination workers access to immunization records, whenever and wherever the information is needed, using simple, ubiquitous technology. Future directions for mTikka include incorporation into national and regional health record systems to support performance tracking and supply-chain management.

Since the launch of Grand Challenges Explorations in 2008, more than 600 people in 45 countries have received grants. The program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.