Maternova was founded by Meg Wirth, 2011 Cartier Awards finalist from the United States and has since brought on Allyson Cote as cofounder. Maternova combats maternal mortality in childbirth with a web-based marketplace for products, tools and information and by aiding clinicians in the field.
By Leah Hardenbergh - Intern at Maternova, Inc.
Maternova is a marketplace for maternal and newborn health innovations. If there is one word to summarize working in the sphere of maternal health, it is dynamic. The issues we address are vast and constantly evolving with the changing health risks worldwide for mothers and newborns. Due to the nature of the industry, we are constantly searching for innovative solutions for the latest threats to mothers. This is what led us to our project currently underway: a line of mosquito-protective clothing to protect mothers and newborns from Zika.
WHO declared Zika a public health emergency in February of 2016. It has since been proven that the Zika virus is the cause of microcephaly and other severe brain defects in infants. Active Zika virus transmission by mosquitos has occurred in Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Pacific Islands. Person-to-person transmission and other cases of Zika have been reported in a number of additional countries and regions. Zika is a general public health threat, but with its especially profound effects on pregnant women and newborns, we knew we had to dive in and act fast.
The first step was to research existing options for Zika protection for women. We found a number of solutions in different phases of development, including ways to trap mosquitos, set up bed nets for protection, spray around the household, use personal liquid repellents, and develop a vaccine.
While a variety of approaches exist, there are shortcomings and gaps in full coverage. Vaccines do not emerge overnight, and we did not want to sit around and wait for one to be developed, tested, and distributed. Personal liquid repellents are expensive and give off a strong odor, which discourages use. Bed nets and household sprays have promise, but can only protect women in their own homes. But what about the rest of the time? Women in poor areas of Brazil, Colombia, and other countries where Zika is emerging spend much of their time outside the home, including selling products in the market and washing clothes in the rivers. What novel mechanisms could be employed to offer protection?
Then we thought: mosquito-protective clothing! It is the perfect way to protect women outside the home in day-to-day life. So, we went back to researching to see what was out there that we could bring into the Maternova portfolio.
Much to our dismay, the options were scarce. Out of the few things we did end up finding, none of it seemed like clothing women would actually choose to wear (unless they were dressing up as a beekeeper or astronaut). Our solution? Create our own line of clothing to protect pregnant women from Zika.
The underlying force of our product is mosquito-repelling nanotechnology that is embedded in the fabric. The nanotechnology binds the repellent in a molecular structure that keeps it active for longer, meaning it can withstand 50 washings without losing effectiveness. It is environmentally friendly and proven safe for pregnant women. With a grant from Grand Challenges Canada, we were able to set up a clinical trial in Eastern El Salvador to test the use of this fabric, through a program where Zika mother kits were already being distributed.
Meanwhile, we are working with a Brazilian designer whose hometown was hit especially hard by Zika. She is designing pieces that can be adjusted throughout pregnancy. Most importantly, this is protective clothing that women actually want to wear. A garment that is stylish, comfortable, and protects you and your baby from disease – what more could you ask for? These pieces will be distributed anywhere and everywhere for women at any level of risk at any stage in their reproductive journey.
We are excited by the potential of this project for mothers and newborns everywhere. At Maternova, we are always striving for practical solutions for threats to maternal and newborn health, and cannot wait to see where this path leads. Although this began as a reaction to Zika, the scope of the effects are not limited to Zika – any mosquito-borne illness could be addressed with this innovative solution. We hope that you will continue on this journey with us to see how far this can go in the dynamic world of maternal and newborn health!