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Global Maternal and Neonatal Health 2019 - Research Grants (Invite only) and Seed Funding Grants

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
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Note: This call will open shortly for those applicants who have been invited to submit a full research grant proposal following the outline call that closed in April 2019, and for seed-funding applications. If you did not submit to the outline call or submitted and have not been invited to submit a full application, you are ineligible to submit to this call and your application will be withdrawn.


The Global Maternal and Neonatal Health funding call is a joint initiative between the Medical Research Council (MRC; part of UK Research & Innovation, partly funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)), and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The purpose of the call is to address the burden of maternal and neonatal mortality and morbidity in low and middle income countries (LMICs), by funding high-quality proposals across the spectrum of basic to applied research.

Awards will support multidisciplinary approaches, build and strengthen research partnerships, and promote capacity building in global maternal and neonatal health research. Applications are particularly encouraged from principal investigators based at organisations in LMICs, as well as from eligible research organisations based in the UK working in equitable partnership with LMIC colleagues.

This is the first of three annual calls. Up to £10 million will be made available for this call to support research grants up to three years in duration and seed-funding grants up to one year’s duration. For the first call we particularly encourage proposals focusing on the period of pregnancy and birth, although pre-conception and postpartum applications will be considered.


Every year, worldwide, 2.7 million babies die during the first 28 days of life and 2.6 million babies are stillborn. 98% of this combined total occurs in LMICs along with 99% of maternal deaths. In addition to maternal and neonatal mortality, morbidity also needs to be addressed, moving beyond survival to have a transformative effect on the long-term health of mother, father and baby. If we are to achieve the targets set out in Sustainable Development Goal 3 more research is needed to improve our knowledge of the scale, cause, prevention, prediction, detection, treatment and management of neonatal and maternal health problems.

Meeting such a wide-ranging challenge requires the involvement of multiple disciplines and an understanding of issues facing pre-conception (including around contraception), during pregnancy and birth, and postpartum where morbidities are not necessarily life-threatening but can have significant impact on quality of life and future reproductive health. The first call encourages applications focused on the period of pregnancy and birth where the highest risks are faced and where the triple burden of maternal death, neonatal death and stillbirth is heaviest.

The current call builds on previous investments in global maternal and neonatal health by MRC and NIHR which have been funded via researcher-led applications to MRC boards, NIHR Global Health Research Units and Groups and joint funding streams (such as the MRC-Wellcome-DFID-NIHR Joint Global Health Trials scheme and MRC-DFID-NIHR Adolescent Health calls). This call represents the first strategic call based on the joint MRC-NIHR overview of global maternal and neonatal health research priorities. This document contains further detail on the rationale for a dedicated funding stream and lists examples of priority research areas. Not all of these priorities will be addressed within a single call.

Over time, this funding programme will build up a network of research projects that span the broad spectrum of maternal and neonatal health tackling the complex challenges that exist from the mechanistic to the systems level, and across the continuum of pre-conception to postpartum.

Remit and scope

This call will support internationally competitive research projects in global maternal and neonatal health. Additionally, seed-funding is available to develop partnerships, collect preliminary data, conduct feasibility studies, for example in preparation for future large-scale activity. The scope of the call is deliberately broad, reflecting the range and complexity of the challenges faced and the interdisciplinary efforts required. We emphasise that improvements in maternal and neonatal health rely on both innovation and better implementation of existing interventions. Examples of priority research areas within the pre-conception, pregnancy and birth, and postpartum periods, as well as cross-cutting themes relevant to all areas, can be found in the overview of research priorities. Briefly, subject areas may comprise (but are not limited to):

  • aetiology, detection, and management of stillbirth, miscarriage, pre-term birth, intrauterine growth restriction, pre-eclampsia, abruptio placentae, sepsis, and postpartum haemorrhage
  • identification of population-relevant biomarkers and risk factors that allow prediction of complications that may occur during pregnancy, delivery, and beyond
  • targeted intervention to improve pre-conception health beyond traditional fortification and supplementation (for example, promoting healthy lifestyle choices, improved health literacy, and better nutrition before and between pregnancies)
  • contraception and sociocultural issues around women’s reproductive rights
  • technological innovation, including cost-effective, low-tech diagnostics and detection devices, mHealth intervention, telemedicine, and collection of big data to enable accurate epidemiology
  • provision of perinatal mental healthcare to mothers and fathers, including those affected by stillbirth, and with consideration given to sociocultural factors that may lead to stigma and blame
  • diagnosis and treatment of co-morbid infection, including consideration of vertical transmission and/or impact and management of non-communicable disease
  • management and treatment of neonatal morbidity and chronic maternal morbidity caused by the birthing process. This includes development of ‘bundles’ of interventions to address multiple risks in the neonatal period. (Indirect effects of maternal morbidity, such as unemployment, the health of her other children, and the social and economic standing of her family are outside the scope of the current call.)
  • humanitarian settings associated with increases in maternal and neonatal morbidity and mortality and higher rates of sexual violence. Greater research efforts are needed to address these issues considering the growing numbers living in displaced populations and protracted conflict settings.

Randomised controlled trials and health systems proposals are eligible under this call. Where a large-scale trial is proposed, the applicant should ensure the necessary sub-headings are included in the Case for Support to allow the full assessment of the trial (see research grant Guidance for Applicants for more details).

Please note that submission of the same proposal to more than one MRC or NIHR scheme will not be permitted.

Applications directly from PIs at LMIC research organisations are encouraged. Where the application is led by a UK PI, it should include effective, sustainable and equitable partnerships with researchers based in the LMIC location(s) where the research will take place, with strong governance and management processes in place. All applications should demonstrate scientific leadership and intellectual contribution from LMIC investigators with a clear plan for sustaining partnerships beyond the duration of the award.

Applications involving industrial collaborators are eligible and should follow the MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement (MICA) process. Industrial collaborators cannot be recipients of funding. The role of industrial partners must be clearly explained, with special emphasis on the benefit to LMICs.

MRC and NIHR are committed to building research capacity within LMICs and the UK. Invited research grant applicants are required to complete a capacity building annex as part of their application (this is not required for seed-funding proposals).

Examples of capacity building include:

  • increasing capability of staff to work across disciplines and in partnerships
  • support and mentoring for more junior team members
  • building leadership skills amongst early career researchers
  • mentorship opportunities
  • co-design of research
  • opportunities for those with relevant skills to orient their research towards global issues
  • formation of LMIC research networks.

In order to capture long term outcomes, longitudinal population cohorts can be supported through this call if it is clearly demonstrated that they add value to existing cohorts. Applicants must contact the office in advance of applying if their proposal includes establishing a new cohort and would be expected to provide assurances of sustainability of the cohort beyond the duration of the award.

In addition to this strategic call and joint funding initiatives, the MRC and NIHR supports global health research through researcher-led funding via MRC boards and panels, NIHR Global Health Research Units and Groups, and other individual and joint funding initiatives. Applications in global maternal and neonatal health can be submitted to the relevant boards and panels at any time.


The MRC and NIHR have made up to £10 million available for Global Maternal and Neonatal Health research grant and seed-funding awards.

PIs may apply for research grant funding for the duration of up to three years or seed-funding grants for up to one year. There are no set budget limits for research grant proposals; small and larger-scale projects are invited. As a guide, applicants should note that the funders would envisage funding 10-15 research grant applications per call. Seed-funding applications should not exceed £100,000. All projects are required to start as soon as possible after being awarded.

Research grants are intended to support:

  • UK and/or LMIC research consumable costs
  • salary costs for UK and/or LMIC-based researchers
  • partnership and networking activities
  • research training and capacity building activities
  • travel and subsistence.

 Seed-funding grants are intended to support:

  • networking meetings to develop strategy and partnerships for future activities
  • small pump-priming projects to generate preliminary data for future applications
  • salary costs for existing research staff, where these can be shown to be making a clear and important contribution to the development of the proposed activities
  • travel and subsistence.

Research grants and seed-funding grants are not intended to support:

  • continuation of existing research grants
  • studentships (such as costs associated with masters or PhD programmes).

Requested costs for UK activities should be 80% full economic costs. Costs for work undertaken at overseas research organisations are permitted and should be 100% of eligible costs. Please see the relevant Guidance for Applicants for more information on eligible costs. If applicable, the UK lead research organisation must consider the financial controls and risk mitigations that will be put in place for the transfer of funding to overseas organisations.


The PI is the lead researcher on the application with overall responsibility for the intellectual leadership of the project and for the overall management of the research. The grant will be administered by the PI’s research organisation. Co-Is assist the PI in the management and leadership of the research and may provide specialist expertise in a particular facet of the research.

PI’s should be based at an eligible LMIC or UK research organisation (see the relevant Guidance for Applicants for more details on eligible research organisations). If the PI is based in the UK, there must be clear partnership with, and scientific leadership from, Co-Is based in the LMIC(s) where the project will take place. Researchers can be the PI on only one application in this call but may act as a Co-I on any number of applications if their capacity permits them to fully input to the projects should more than one be successful.

Partnerships may build on existing relationships or represent the development of a new collaborative relationship. The principal requirement is for meaningful, quality collaborations or partnerships, demonstrated through clear leadership roles across the proposed partnership, and balance and proportionality in partners’ roles and responsibilities.

All funded projects must have a strong underpinning research ethic based on mutual respect and understanding for different cultural, ethnic, social and economic beliefs and practices. Solutions to maternal and neonatal health in LMICs must be rooted in, and acceptable to, the institutions, communities and societies where they will operate. We strongly encourage engagement of non-academic stakeholders in research proposals. We recognise that uptake and use of research outcomes does not just occur at the end of a research project, but rather is embedded throughout the research process itself. We therefore encourage non-academic involvement in both the early design and ongoing conduct of research projects.


All proposals should consider input from and equitable representation of researchers:

  • from countries involved in the research
  • of different genders
  • at all career stages
  • from multiple disciplines.

Pregnancy and birth

The current call encourages applications that focus on the period from conception to birth, including adverse pregnancy outcomes. The research priorities document outlines where the delineation lies between this time period and the pre-conception and postpartum periods. Applications focused on pre-conception and postpartum health will be considered but pregnancy and birth applications will be prioritised for funding in cases where quality is deemed equal.

Official Development Assistance

The GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK government in 2015 to support research addressing the challenges faced by LMICs. MRC is a GCRF delivery partner and their contribution to this call is from their GCRF allocation. This complements the UK government funding of the NIHR Global Health Research (GHR) Programme which delivers internationally outstanding applied global health research for the direct and primary benefit of patients and the public in LMICs.

The GCRF and NIHR GHR Programme forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment. Applications must demonstrate the research to be primarily relevant and directly linked to near-term or long-term benefits to the health and economic development of LMICs. Applications should articulate a clear and specific case for the relevance of the proposed research to the LMIC, and identify and provide evidence that the proposed plan of research is informed by the needs of the LMIC. Further guidance on ODA and demonstrating ODA compliance in applications for funding is available via the ODA guidance document on the UKRI: GCRF webpage.

Key dates



Call launch for invited research grant applications

01 August 2019

Call launch for Seed Funding applications 01 August 2019

Deadline for invited research grant applications

15 October 2019

Deadline for Seed Funding applications

15 October 2019

Applicant response to peer review (invited research grants only)

December 2019

Panel meeting and funding decisions

February 2020

How to apply

Applicants wishing to submit a research grant application must have been invited to do so following submission of an outline application prior to 24 April 2019.

Separate Guidance for Applicants documents for invite-only Research Grant applications and Seed Funding applications are available on this page. In addition, applicants should consult the MRC Guidance for Applicants and the Je-S handbook for general information on how to complete the application.

Research grants

Applicants are welcome to contact the office (international@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk) in advance of submitting an invited research grant application or seed funding application to discuss remit or eligibility.

Invited research grant proposals must be submitted via Je-S including a more detailed Case for Support (maximum eight pages for non-trial applications, 12 pages for trial applications) and a full breakdown of costs. Applications will be sent out for international peer review and assessed by an expert panel convened by the funders. This panel will recommend the final funding decisions. Proposals for research grants will be assessed according to the following criteria, with more detail given in the invited research grant Guidance for Applicants:

  • importance of the question/likely impact of the study
  • study design and feasibility
  • research team
  • capacity building and equitable partnerships
  • justification of resources and appropriate financial management and risk assurance
  • clear and effective pathways to impact
  • compliance with ODA eligibility requirements.

Seed Funding Grants

Applicants for seed-funding grants did not need to submit an outline application. The Seed Funding applications should be submitted via Je-S and should include a maximum six-page Case for Support and a full breakdown of costs. Seed-funding applications will be assessed by the full panel according to the criteria laid out in section 6 of the Seed Funding Guidance for Applicants. These criteria differ according to the type of seed-funding activity being proposed.


Queries about this funding scheme and application process, including eligibility for the call, should be directed to international@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

To discuss your application, please contact Dr Philip Woodgate, MRC Programme Manager, Global Health Challenges (international@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk) or Ms Elaina Davis, NIHR Global Health Research Programme Officer (globalhealthresearch@dhsc.gov.uk).