Alumna Connects Women’s Health Community with Innovative Solutions
Meg Wirth has focused on women’s health policy since 1998, when she graduated from the Woodrow Wilson School with a Master in Public Affairs degree. Using the grounding the Wilson School provided her in demography and health policy, she gained experience through initiatives funded by epicenters of policy.
Wirth has monitored and evaluated a USAID-funded Safe Motherhood initiative in Indonesia and co-authored the United Nation’s Millennium Project’s final report on child and maternal health. Along the way, she developed an entrepreneurial spirit.
In 2013, her drive and acumen led Wirth and a colleague to identify a “glaring gap” in the women’s health market.
“A large number of graduate schools, labs, corporations and solo entrepreneurs are developing faster, better and cheaper innovations for global health. Despite the wave of new ideas, there is an 'innovation pileup' and a series of delays in getting products to market, if they ever make it at all,” she explained.
To address this issue, Wirth and Allyson Cote co-founded Maternova, Inc. The women-owned company has built an online marketplace of information services, health care products and software tools designed to save the lives of women and newborns worldwide. Maternova specifically seeks technologies that reduce the cost or time it takes for a practitioner to perform a clinical or public health procedure.
The company’s central focus is on postpartum hemorrhage, the leading cause of death for women around the time of childbirth, with secondary focuses on anemia, blood disorders, hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, tropical diseases and sexually transmitted infections.
“Many of our products and technologies focus on predicting hemorrhage (we have a provisional patent here), stopping hemorrhage and reversing shock and detecting hemorrhage and its effects,” Wirth said. “Our screening is quite rigorous in that we require in-country product pilot testing, peer-reviewed papers and extensive regulatory approvals before we will put our name behind a product.”
Maternova partners with more than 40 countries globally, from the United States to Bangladesh and Brazil to Uganda, to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.
“The maternal mortality ratios in the United States are the worst among industrialized nations. Some of our states, including Texas, lost mothers at a rate that is equivalent to very poor nations,” Wirth said.
Most recently, Maternova developed apparel that protects women against Zika using nanotechnology, through funding from Grand Challenges Canada. The line, including a sweater, dress, scarf, leggings and an adjustable maternity dress, also protects wearers against Malaria, Dengue fever, Chikungunya virus and Lyme disease.
To maximize its reach, the company aims to operate in other languages. “We allow our customers—Ministries of Health, educational institutions, humanitarian organizations, nonprofits and private hospitals in more than 40 countries—to learn about and access the technologies from wherever they are in the world,” noted Wirth.
Maternova allowed Wirth to transition from advancing women’s health through the tools of research and policy to a set of vehicles including social entrepreneurship, technology, ecommerce and impact investing. For example, she says that she would talk about women’s health to those who want to learn and listen through the language of economics.
“I would talk in dollars and cents, because we now have much better data on how much it costs society and how much it costs economically when we don't take care of mothers and infants, whether in the United States or elsewhere.”
At the Wilson School, said Wirth, she developed the confidence to write academic articles and review evidence. Entrepreneurship, she notes for current students, is not for the faint of heart.
“I would certainly say that spending as much time working with others who are leading organizations first, is the best preparation for leading your own,” she said.