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Improved maternal health outcomes in Burnet modelling for Gates Foundation

  • 27 Sep 2023

Baby weighed by maternity nurse in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea

The life-saving benefits of low-cost interventions in maternal and child health have been demonstrated in Burnet Institute modelling commissioned by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its 2023 Goalkeepers Report.

The modelling shows how simple innovations could prevent hundreds of thousands of maternal deaths and save the lives of millions of newborns globally over the next two decades.
Burnet Senior Research Officer Dr Romesh Abeysuriya said the modelling was “more complex than typical disease models” as there are many different outcomes related to each other.

“When you give a test or a treatment to a pregnant woman, you can change the outcomes for both the mother and the child,” Dr Abeysuriya said.

“So being able to account for that kind of complexity is really important, and that’s one of the key features that the bespoke model is able to take into account.”

The Burnet modelling showed how low-cost innovations, such as IV iron and maternal azithromycin (intrapartum), could prevent thousands of women in low-to-middle-income countries from dying during pregnancy and childbirth. 

The work also showed that access to micronutrient supplements, medications like maternam azithromycin, and new diagnostic tools could save more than six million babies by 2040.

“We worked closely with [The Gates Foundation] to design each component of the model and to understand how the interventions were expected to impact the different outcomes,” Dr Abeysuriya said.

“We built the model using our own open-source modelling software and worked together with the Foundation team to analyse the results and most interesting scenarios.”

Burnet researchers have been working with the foundation’s Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Discovery & Tools program for the past five years, building tools to analyse future trends.

“Every year we have more information about what countries have been doing and how their situations are changing [and have] a better understanding of how new interventions or new products might work,” Dr Abeysuriya said.

“We have this methodology that can be updated iteratively so we can keep building on it each year to track the progress.”

The Gates Foundation works with international partners to improve the lives of people around the globe by tackling some of the world’s most critical problems.

This includes eliminating poverty and hunger, improving health and wellbeing, access to clean water, sanitation, education, and increasing gender equality.

Aimed at accelerating progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the 2023 Goalkeepers Report focuses on saving the lives of women and babies through low-cost innovations.

“We believe our most ancient public health problem — the survival of mothers and babies — remains the most urgent,” Melinda French Gates and Bill Gates, Co-Chairs of the foundation wrote in the Goalkeepers Report.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that researchers have learned more about the health of mothers and babies over the past ten years than they did in the century before that.

“Tragically, those solutions aren’t reaching families in the communities where mothers and kids need them most. That needs to change.”

Read more of the 2023 Goalkeepers Report by The Gates Foundation here.