SEATTLE — Last year, more than 2.68 million babies died within the first 28 days of their life. Of those deaths, 98 percent or 2.63 million occurred in developing countries.
In the developing world, nearly half of all mothers and newborns don’t receive medical care after birth, and those who do are often subjected to understaffed hospitals with 20, 30 or even 50 babies under the care of one nurse. Even worse is the lack of vital signs monitors that forces nurses to manually check vitals like temperature and heart rate. The time spent manually monitoring one child could be the difference between saving or losing another.
The solution could be Neopenda, a low-cost sensor integrated into a baby hat that continuously monitors a newborn’s vitals. The wearable device monitors the four vital signs nurses use to identify babies in distress. The sensors are powered by rechargeable batteries and wirelessly transmit the data on heart rate, respiration, blood oxygen saturation and temperature to a central monitor. Healthcare workers are then immediately notified when a baby is in distress.
Neopenda would allow nurses to check on up to 24 babies at once and quickly attend to those who need help. More than that, the device is completely safe for newborns. It operates on a Bluetooth Low Energy transmitter that complies with all safety recommendations.
One of the main problems hospitals face in sub-Saharan Africa is budget constraint. According to the creators of Neopenda, every device has the potential to save the life of a newborn for less than $1 once it is produced at scale. This could mean a huge breakthrough for low-resource countries, especially those with understaffed hospitals.
Last year, co-founders Sonah Shah and Teresa Cauvel went to Uganda to get design input from nurses and doctors who will use the Neopenda hat in their practices. Now, Shah and Cauvel are developing their prototypes and working toward the first field deployment at a partner hospital in Uganda.
“Our vision to success includes demonstrating the feasibility and impact of the technology in Ugandan NICUs, scaling deployment and sales in Uganda, and expanding to comparable regional and global markets over the next three years,” the co-founders said in a statement.
Globally, the neonatal mortality rate has substantially dropped, from 36 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 19 in 2015. But there is still an urgent need to improve newborn survival and health. The good thing is that the most frequent causes of infant deaths are treatable or preventable conditions. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, up to two-thirds of newborn deaths can be prevented with effective and known health measures during the first week of life.
Infants are most vulnerable during their first weeks of life, and the lack of medical care in developing countries leaves them at high risk. Neopenda has the potential to change that.
– Mayan Derhy