A University of Melbourne research team has been awarded a USAID grant for their work addressing pneumonia in Papua New Guinea.

The team of Dr Bryn Sobott, Professor Roger Rassool from the School of Physics and Associate Professor Jim Black from the Nossal Institute is one of the 53 worldwide winners of the "Saving Lives at Birth: A Grand Challenge for Development" competition, led by USAID (the American equivalent of AusAid) and the Gates Foundation among others.  

The University of Melbourne group was selected from 53 finalists that had been reduced down from more than 400 submissions.

The University of Melbourne project called FREO2 – Oxygen for Neonates is a low cost, low maintenance, electricity-free oxygen concentrator and will assist newly born babies with oxygen and help prevent deaths from pneumonia in this vulnerable population.

Dr Sobott said pneumonia was the leading cause of mortality for children under five years of age and more than 1.6 million children die of it each year.  “These deaths could be largely preventable if not for the lack of oxygen available to neonates, often due to a lack of electricity to produce oxygen supplies in a particular country,” he said.

“This grant will support field trials of FRE02 in remote clinics which have no regular supply of oxygen. The research team from the School of Physics and the Nossal Institute for Global Health will be conducting this trial, starting in Papua New Guinea.”

At the end of the 12 months, the team will report back to USAID and the Gates Foundation to demonstrate the feasibility of the project and quantify the number of lives that could be saved. Positive results in the trial may lead to more funding to enable the project to be implemented globally.