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The Value of Partnership: Health Entrepreneurs and UNAIDS

Pradeep Kakkattil is the Director of the UNAIDS Office of Innovation in Geneva. 

Elina Viitaniemi is an Innovation Adviser at UNAIDS. 


A few years ago, governments of all the UN member states unanimously agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to be reached by 2030. Health is centrally placed within the 2030 agenda, with Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as a cross-cutting platform that can deliver gains across the health landscape. However, today disparities in access to health are wide, both between countries as well as between various regions and settings within countriesWe will not be able to reach the SDGs without significantly rethinking our strategies on health, including drawing on new technologies and innovations to help countries fast-track their progress and leapfrog their health responses. 


Scientific knowledge and new technologies can help us bridge the gap in access to good health and wellbeing. However, many innovations that could be potential game changerdo not reach countries and communities on a scale that will have impact. We believe that to maximize the impact of technology and innovation, there is a need to ensure political leadership for adoption of innovations. This must be driven by the needs identified by countries which can then help entrepreneurs and innovators tailor and adapt their innovations to specific contexts to create relevant and sustainable solutions. Many innovators may be committed to supporting countries in driving the SDG agenda, but the lack of trust and translation of needs between governments and innovators can be a major challenge. Similarly, a lack of significant investments prevents adequate scale-up. 


To bridge this gap, UNAIDS has set up the Health Innovation Exchangea platform that works with countries to identify critical pain points in their health responses, and connects the implementers to innovative new solutions and technologies. The Health Innovation Exchange also works with funders and investors to link countries and innovations with investments to ensure that implementation of new solutions is sustainable.  


Switzerland’s Health Valley” and the Geneva region are home to significant expertise both in medical technology and health innovation, as well as being an international financial hub. Rooted in this environment, the Accelerate2030 programme is uniquely placed to identify solutions from around the world, link them up with the Geneva ecosystem and support their growth and scaling up for impact. UNAIDS is happy to have partnered up with the ImpactHub for the 2019 edition of Accelerate2030. 


On 11 October 2019, UNAIDS hosted the Accelerate2030 event “Scaling Innovations in Health: Insights from Entrepreneurs”, which introduced the two 2019 global finalist with a specific focus on health, Unima and Portal Telemedicina, to a variety of partners based in Geneva. We had an opportunity to explore how to leverage the UNAIDS networks across the UN system, other international organization and the private sector to support the further development and scaling of these innovations. For the Health Innovation Exchange, Accelerate2030 can provide an important pipeline for identifying innovations that have a high potential for impact for health, and that have already gone through an extensive review and acceleration process. 


For example, Unima showcased a low-cost test for TB they have developed, which has the potential of being rolled out in communities to identify people that may require TB treatment. For HIV and TB, one of the biggest challenges today is the ability to reach people with testing at community level in a manner that is low-cost, rapid, and reliable. However, in order to validate the usability and effectiveness of Unima’s test in communities, it is critical to have this new solution tried out in countries with a high TB burden. UNAIDS is working with its partners in India and South Africa to explore potential for validation in communities and with relevant public sector institutions.  


We look forward to our continued collaboration with the ImpactHub through the Accelerate2030 programmeIt is partnerships like this that can enable us to be stronger in our joint efforts to reach the SDGs by 2030.