SEATTLE — Hypothermia is a leading contributor to newborn deaths that occur after hospital discharge. Bempu bracelets monitor a newborn’s core temperature and sound an alarm if the infant’s temperature drops too low. Since its inception, Bempu Health has helped 10,000 infants with its temperature-monitoring bracelet.
In 2009, the number of newborn deaths decreased to 3.6 million. Of the 3.6 million deaths, half occurred at home and nearly 100 percent occurred in developing countries. The average newborn mortality rate in developing countries is 33 of 1,000. In developed countries, this rate is only 4 of 1,000.
Bempu Health was founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada and USAID’s Saving Lives at Birth to find problems in newborn healthcare. The organization met with more than 100 pediatricians and neonatologists to assess newborn care in India and isolated hypothermia as a major concern. To combat this threat, Bempu Health rolled out the Bempu bracelet.
The Bempu bracelet is a temperature-monitoring device worn by newborns that alerts parents if the baby’s temperature drops to critical levels. If the baby is too cold, the bracelet flashes orange and sounds an alarm that only stops when the core temperature increases.
Bempu bracelets have batteries that last a month. Most newborn mortalities occur immediately after birth; between 25 and 45 percent of newborn deaths happen within the first 24 hours of life and 75 percent happen within the first week of life. Bempu monitors babies during the critical first month of life.
The bracelets are used by intensive care units and at home after the infant is discharged. Each bracelet costs only $28.
Hypothermia is rarely the direct cause of death for newborns. However, hypothermia contributes to severe infection, complications from premature birth and asphyxia. Severe infection causes approximately 36 percent of newborn deaths, complications from premature birth cause 29 percent of newborn deaths and birth asphyxia causes 23 percent of newborn deaths.
Low birth weight babies are particularly susceptible to hypothermia. Each year, approximately 18 million babies (14 percent) are born with a low birth weight. These infants account for between 60 and 80 percent of newborn deaths.
India has the highest number of newborn deaths caused by premature birth. Each year, eight million premature, underweight babies are born in India. Bempu Health has focused on improving newborn care in India; most of the 10,000 infants helped by Bempu bracelets live in India.
According to Gini Morgan, head of public health at Bempu Health, chaotic government hospitals mean fewer resources dedicated to newborn care in India. Babies are often discharged early to relieve overcrowding or because rural families need to return home.
An independent study conducted by Dr. Vishnu Bhat from the Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research in Pondicherry found Bempu bracelets gave an accurate temperature reading between 85 and 90 percent of the time.
The Bempu bracelet was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2017. The company was also awarded a $2 million grant from USAID’s Saving Lives at Birth to expand distribution. With important support like this, the company can continue to grow and reach many more infants around the world.
– Katherine Parks