Simple Social Innovation Keeping Premature Babies Alive in India
(3BL Media/Justmeans) - In the developing world, millions of women and babies die unnecessarily during pregnancy, childbirth, and the first months after childbirth. Effective, low-cost interventions are available, but they are not reaching all of the women and babies who need them. Every year more than 20 million babies are born prematurely or with low birth weight - and an estimated 450 of them die each hour. Yet most of these deaths could be avoided by simply keeping them warm. A baby's body temperature drops as soon as it is outside the controlled environment of the mother's womb. So just after labour, it's important to regulate the temperature.
Premature babies have very little body fat, so it hard for them to keep warm and need incubators to help keep them alive. Women in Indian villages who give birth at home have little access to basic healthcare or electricity. For them, keeping babies warm means wrapping them in layers of fabric and hot water bottles, or putting them under bare light bulbs. Many of these babies don't survive…India produces a baby nearly every second and has the highest rate of pre-term baby deaths in the world.
Now a low cost baby bag is saving thousands of young lives. Called the Embrace, it emerged out of a class assignment at Stanford's Institute of Design in 2007. The team created a sleeping bag with a removable heating element. The end product looks like a quilted sleeping bag that is durable and portable. It requires only 30 minutes of electricity to warm up using a portable heater that comes with the product. More importantly for mothers, it allows for increased contact with their child, unlike traditional incubators. The infant warmer costs about $200 to make, is inexpensive to distribute and reusable.
Embrace is a non-profit venture. The product is not sold, but is donated to impoverished communities in need. The invention is thought to have helped save the lives of more than 22,000 low birth-weight and premature infants.
The GE Healthcare Lullaby baby-warmer is also worth a mention. Developed in Bangalore, India and launched in 2009. It costs $3,000 (£1,900) and is 70% cheaper than traditional models. The design includes pictorial warnings and colour coding, so that illiterate rural healthcare workers can operate the machine. It consumes less power than most incubators and is a great example of "reverse innovation"; where large global companies design products in developing markets like India and then take the successful creation back to international markets to sell!
Photo Credit: Embrace website