A low-cost infant warmer developed by a lady doctor from Tamil Nadu could act as a savior for infants in rural India
India’s infant mortality rate is alarmingly high at 54 per thousand births, according to the UNICEF State of the World’s Children 2009 report.
For those uninitiated, infant mortality is the probability of dying between birth and one year of age, per thousand live births. Though a number of reasons are responsible for this, one of the major causes is the lack of adequate medical care in rural areas. The high cost of medical equipment also adds to the woes of those residing in rural and remote areas. Given the situation, could a low-cost infant warmer designed by Dr Satya Jeganathan, a neonatal specialist at the Chengalpet Government Hospital in Tamil Nadu, prove to be a lifeline for many infants?
An infant warmer is used mainly to warm babies soon after their birth. It is used for babies who are either unwell or are premature, i.e. born before 40 weeks of gestation. Since such babies are generally under-developed and lack energy that regulates their body temperature, they are maintained in warmers or incubators, which regulate their temperature at normally 36.5 to 37˚C. Failure to do so can result in organs being damaged, or even worse, death of the newborn.
Dr Satya recalls one such incident, which also turned out to be her inspiration, “I came here in the 1980s. At that time, though we had 8,000 deliveries per year, we had no warmers. So, many babies used to die of cold. Once it was raining heavily, and that night we nearly lost six newborns due to the cold. It generally takes a long time to apply to the government and get equipment sanctioned. The process was going on, so I thought why not, in the mean time, create a heating device until we get government support.” Following this, Dr Satya and her staff nurses created a simple device and gradually started modifying it. She says, “At that time, it was the need of the hour as we had lost many babies due to lack of equipment.”
How does it work?
Dr Satya’s first working prototype was a radiant infant warmer. The warmer used bulbs as a heating source and had a locally manufactured wooden frame. She says, “The first prototype was made using the help of local carpenters in the villages. It was [developed] between 1990 and 1999. It was a gradual process. For the electronic device, we got the help of an electronics student from Anna University. He made the temperature monitors for it. But the rest of the equipment was made by the local carpenters and electricians.”
|As per industry sources, each state government has a demand for 2,000 to 3,000 warmers per year adding to a demand of 50,000 units per year. This coupled with demand from the private sector such as nursing homes, gynecology centers and hospitals add up to a conservative demand of 100,000 units per year|
|Tamil Nadu State Govt. has estimated a demand of more than1,400 warmers for the current financial year by targeting ten districts with high mortality rates|
|Source:Villgro *Conservative estimate|
However, this infant warmer had certain issues that had to be addressed, such as safety concerns, sterilization of the unit and the light of the bulb falling directly into the eyes of the babies. At this point, she roped in Villgro, formerly known as Rural Innovation Network, for help. She says, “Because I was using the bulb as a heating device, I wanted them to test the heat emission to the baby. I wanted them to reduce the illumination of the bulb so that it does not disturb the baby’s sleep. I contacted them for these two things basically. So for one year we experimented with various prototypes and finally we have gone in for the air flow model.” Besides technical help, Villgro also provided her with a loan of Rs 8 lakh to fund her research.
Rajeev Surana of Villgro who is in charge of the infant warmer project, says, “The air flow model was designed keeping in mind the drawbacks of the radiant infant warmers. In the radiant infant model, the bulbs are placed at the top, which, besides the heating, also produces a lot of light that disturbs the baby’s sleep. There was also a concern of the bulb accidentally falling on the infant. In the air flow model, on the other hand, the bulb is kept under the baby’s bed and the heated air gradually rises and goes around the baby and keeps it warm. We are gradually developing this model and testing it.”
|Innovator Dr Sathya Jeganathan
Innovation Low-cost infant warmer
Features and issues involved
The air flow infant warmer (AIW), which works on the air flow principle, has been made with materials readily available in the market. As the machine has been developed keeping in mind the rural needs, this factor helps to keep the cost low as well as makes replacement and servicing easier. Dr Satya says, “One of the problems with using complex medical equipment in the rural centers is that in case of a breakdown or servicing, it becomes difficult for the equipment makers to go down all the way to the rural centers to tend to the machine. However, with my model, any local electrician in the village can repair this easily.”
The warmer has a castor wheelchair base with five legs and a locking mechanism, a heat chamber mounted on it, and a cradle on top. It has two 200 W bulbs at the base for the heating, so that even if one bulb fails the other can be used as a backup. It has an inbuilt safety mechanism, wherein the bulb is linked to the fan. The bulb and the fan work in tandem so that there is no excess heat generation in the chamber. There are two sets of controls containing the switches and regulators to switch the system on and off and also control the temperature manually. The model also has a temperature display to monitor and control the temperature. The height of the AIW can be adjusted using a lever. It can also be dismantled and assembled easily for transporting it to the rural hinterland.
All medical equipment is required to undergo certain tests and present the report to the ethics committee before entering the market. The low-cost infant warmer by Dr Satya is also undergoing several studies before its market launch. Rajeev Surana says, “One of the issues identified so far is that because we are using warm air, there could be a case of evaporation of the infants’ body fluids. Currently, we are trying to establish this through our studies.” The studies are expected to be completed by the year end.
The way ahead
The product has been granted a provisional patent. Dr Satya and Villgro hope to complete all the studies and file for the final patent by December this year. When asked about the price point, Rajeev says, “Initially, our aim was to not exceed the material cost by more than Rs 5000 and were targeting a final product price of Rs 10,000. But, now we are planning a price tag of somewhere around Rs 15,000. The machines normally available in the market are priced in the range of Rs 20,000 to one lakh.” The organization is now on the lookout for entrepreneurs who are willing to take the product to the masses. According to Rajeev, “We are looking for entrepreneurs who are interested in the product, have a prior knowledge of the medical equipment business, and have government contacts too.”
written by Theresa L. Cunningham, March 01, 2011
written by Rumana Akter, August 12, 2010
|< Prev||Next >|