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IDB Lab Pioneers Progress Investing in Health Innovation
IDB Lab Pioneers Progress Investing in Health Innovation April 07, 2024

By: Gabriel Catan

Health is a fundamental human right and a key driver of economic and social development. Latin America and the Caribbean faces significant and persistent health challenges, such as high rates of non-communicable diseases, inadequate health infrastructure and workforce, and vulnerability to climate change and infectious diseases. To overcome these challenges, innovation is not just a buzzword; it's a necessity.

IDB Lab, the innovation laboratory of the IDB Group, fosters a vibrant and sustainable health innovation ecosystem in the region by providing financing, technical assistance, and knowledge to catalyze and accelerate innovative solutions that can improve health outcomes, access, and quality of care. 

Ecosystem Building: Nurturing Innovation 

Through strategic investments, IDB Lab supports initiatives that strengthen healthcare infrastructure, nurture talent, and promote cross-sector partnerships. By fostering innovation hubs, accelerator programs, and collaborative platforms, IDB Lab creates fertile ground for health startups and entrepreneurs to thrive. These efforts not only spur economic growth but also catalyze breakthroughs in healthcare delivery and accessibility across the region. IDB Lab’s support of NOVAMED is a recent example of our actions to build robust ecosystems. This Jamaican health innovation company has received funds from IDB Lab to create a specialized health innovation lab and incubator that will serve as a platform to sandbox and accelerate health innovation in the Caribbean. It will also conduct a landscaping study to map the existing and potential health innovation actors and needs in the region, and organize pitch competitions to identify and onboard health innovators. The project is expected to support 35 health innovation companies and 15 pilot projects, and to develop the first network of health innovation in the Caribbean.

Mental Health: Breaking the Stigma 

IDB Lab prioritizes investments in mental health innovation to address the pressing need for accessible and effective mental healthcare services, which have long been neglected. From digital therapeutics to community-based interventions, IDB Lab supports initiatives that destigmatize mental health issues and expand access to care. By leveraging technology and promoting awareness, these investments aim to empower individuals to seek help and lead fulfilling lives. IDB Lab published last year “The Invisible Factor”, the first report in the region about entrepreneurs’ mental health, showing the connections between mental health and growth. Two mental health startups, TuConsejería, in Guatemala, and Cuéntame, in Mexico, focused on underserved populations, such as migrants and high-impact small and medium companies, have a collectively US$ 1.5 million from IDB Lab.

Telemedicine: Bridging Gaps in Healthcare 

IDB Lab invests in telemedicine solutions that bridge geographical barriers and improve healthcare outcomes. Whether through mobile health clinics, remote consultations, or telemonitoring systems, these investments enable healthcare providers to reach underserved populations effectively. By harnessing the power of digital connectivity, telemedicine not only enhances access to care but also reduces healthcare disparities across the region. For example, IDB Lab is supporting DoctorOne, an Ecuadorian company that offers telemedicine services for a low price, with a focus on rural populations. Through the Centro de Investigación, Educación y Servicios we have also invested in Bolivia to pilot an innovative monitoring system of pregnant women's health in peri-urban areas to prevent serious complications during the entire continuum of pregnancy (delivery and postpartum). The system transmits wearable data to a central hub where an AI-enhanced algorithm analyzes trends, triggering alerts for timely intervention by clinicians. This approach emphasizes practical preventive measures and seeks a lasting impact on maternal mortality rates in Bolivia. The project will primarily benefit 300-500 pregnant women living in altitude areas, characterized by their low or medium socioeconomic status.

Partnership between the IDB Public Sector and IDB Lab

IDB Lab aligns and complements its health innovation investments with the broader health sector strategies and programs of the IDB Group. By leveraging the synergies and comparative advantages of each division, IDB Lab and the IDB public sector can create greater impact and value for the health innovation ecosystem and its ultimate beneficiaries.  We have engaged in knowledge agenda to show how innovation is being used in the public and private health sectors; this included a webinar on AI in Radiology and an upcoming webinar on innovation and non-communicable diseases. We continue exploring synergies to promote public private partnerships and open innovation challenges in the public sector, as the one conducted in the Hospital de Clinicas in Sao Paulo, Brazil, through InnovaHC.

The Future: Innovating Tomorrow's Healthcare 

As we celebrate the International Health Day, we recognize the urgency of investing in health innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean to address the current and emerging health challenges and to seize the opportunities, contributing to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 3 on Good Health and Well-being. Looking forward, IDB Lab continues harnessing readily available technologies and solutions to drive healthcare innovation. In this direction, we will soon publish, in collaboration with HolonIQ, our first flagship report on health innovation in the region that reviews the main challenges and trends on the matter and maps the ecosystem of startups and players.

IDB Lab remains committed to pushing the boundaries of health innovation and to paving the way for transformative change in healthcare delivery and accessibility. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, health analytics, genomics, and wearable devices hold immense promise for this goal and by staying at the forefront of innovation, IDB Lab is shaping a future where health equity and excellence are accessible to all. As we navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, one thing remains clear: the power of innovation to improve lives and build a healthier world.

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