If you want to change the world, find a way to recreate a life saving medical device into something affordable for third world countries. This is what the makers of Embrace have done, saving the world, one baby at a time.
First you must realize, one way to improve the health and survival of low birthweight (LBW) infants is by keeping them warm. Hypothermia—a major contributor to both illness and infant mortality—affects an estimated 30 percent of neonates in India.
This little known new baby incubator/sleeping bag device began as an answer to a challenge from Stanford University’s Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability Program to create a baby incubator for 1% of the cost of the kind you’d find in a modern U.S. hospital. Units found in modern hospitals cost $20,000 and require constant electricity and a trained hospital tech. The Embrace bag contains a pouch filled with a phase-changing waxy material that melts when heated and maintains a consistent 37 degrees Celsius as as the wax hardens over the next four to six hours. It’s easy enough for an untrained, illiterate villager to use, because it has to be. The home version, which will cost less, is even simpler and can use hot water instead of electricity to warm the wax in the pouch.
“Every newborn needs warmth, but low birthweight and premature infants are more prone to hypothermia because very small babies have less subcutaneous fat to insulate their bodies and their shiver mechanism is less developed,” says Aparna Katakam, director of marketing for GE Healthcare Maternal Infant Care. “I’ve seen the need for the Infant Warmer in India, where it could fill a gap in transporting newborns with complications from rural facilitie to higher level hospitals for more advanced care. This can involve a two or three hour ambulance ride where babies are wrapped in blankets without any way to monitor their temperature.”
Two years ago, graduate students taking a course in Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability at Stanford were given the challenge of developing a low-cost incubator for developing countries, working with a nonprofit. That was both the genesis of Embrace, which was founded by a team of engineers and MBAs, and for the warmer, adds Katakam. “The project was started to provide broad access to an affordable infant warmer, using widely available materials like wax, which is both easy to procure and highly cost-effective to generate body temperature heat for babies who need it. “