Every year there are over 20 million premature or extremely low-birth-weight babies born around the world. Of these, over 4 million will die before the age of 1 month, and many of the others will suffer from chronic illnesses. One of the most dangerous health factors for these infants is the risk of hypothermia. Because they have so little body fat their thermoregulatory systems are not able to maintain a healthy temperature.
The conventional method for counteracting this phenomenon is the use of an incubator. These however, are complicated machines that require constant energy and an expensive initial investment – making them unattainable for many hospitals and healthcare providers in developing countries.
Embrace by Jane Chen and Razmig Hovaghimian, is an innovative solution to these constraints. The product, which looks like a tiny sleeping bag, consists of three separate parts: the AccuTemp Heater, the WarmPak, and the BabyWrap. The AccuTemp Heater is the only part that requires access to an AC power source, but even then it need only be charged for about 35 minutes.
In this time, it heats the WarmPak to 98.6 degrees (the healthy temperature for the human body). Both the WarmPak and the infant are then placed in the BabyWrap, which prevents the heat from dissipating and keeps it at a constant temperature for up to 6 hours.
It’s extremely simple design is one of the most recommending factors for Embrace. In countries where healthcare workers might not be trained or mothers might have to return to work immediately, it allows for an intuitive and portable alternative to the incubator.
Perhaps most importantly, though, the Embrace actually works. When co-founder Jane Chen visited an orphanage in India, she met a premature baby who had been born at a mere 950g (approximately 2.1 pounds). After being in the Embrace for 30 days, she was a “happy, healthy baby.” According to the orphanage, this was the first time that a child of that size had survived there.
Beyond saving their lives, the Embrace also promotes healthy infant development by facilitating the method known as Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC). KMC is simply skin-to-skin contact between the infant and mother, including exclusive breastfeeding from birth. In addition to being an important factor in creating healthy babies, this also facilitates mother-child bonding. Unlike a traditional incubator, the Embrace allows mothers to hold their babies while simultaneously providing them with the warmth they need.
The true brilliance of the Embrace lies in the fact that those who need it most can afford it. Designed specifically for infants in developing countries and rural, isolated communities, it can be manufactured at a mere fraction of the cost of an incubator.
Want more information? Watch Jane Chen’s presentation about the Embrace at Wired 2012 here !
– Rebecca Beyer
Sources: Wired.co.uk, Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA), Embrace