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Rice University competing for $100 million in grant money to help save babies in Malawi


HOUSTON - The Rice University Institute for Global Health is in the running for some big money that could help babies in need.

The department is up for a $100-million prize -- money they say would help them save babies in Malawi. The MacArthur Foundation searched the country for the most ambitious projects with the largest impact, and discovered one right here in the lab at Rice. The Institute for Global Health is preventing 85 percent of neo-natal deaths in Malawi by helping clinicians provide newborn care: keeping them warm, helping them breathe and treating jaundice while in low-resource settings.

"When people donate technologies, they work for a little while, but because they were designed to work in an environment that is air conditioned, that has well-controlled power, access to spare parts, they get there and they quickly fail," Rebecca Richards-Kortum said.

Richards-Kortum says that if she wins the prize money, she and her associates will not be donating big, expensive equipment.

Instead, the money will go toward inventing something that can be easily constructed. "I have two daughters from Ethiopia, and I know what the challenges that they face during the beginning of their lives, and our goal is for every baby born, no matter where in the world, to have access to the tools we know can save lives," Richards-Kortum said. In partnership with Malawi Polytechnic Institute, Rice students teach clinicians how to replicate machines made with simple things like a salad spinner, which spins blood samples.Richards-Kortum does not hesitate to show confidence in her work. She says this is the answer to saving babies in a country that's desperate to save themselves, and we can solve this problem. Her team competes for the $100-million grant with multiple trips to Malawi this year. The winner will be announced in December.

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