• Babies born in the Sub-Saharan Africa have lower chances of survival compared to those born in developed countries due to myriad challenges including inadequate hospitals and healthcare givers.

    While governments are setting resources aside to promote child mortality by constructing hospitals or using mobile clinics in rural areas, there is still room for improvement.

    Newborn babies are fragile and need utmost care all around the clock especially when they are ill. In understaffed hospitals, the lives of such babies are at high risk. The time spent to manually check the temperature, heart rate and other measurements in one child, could mean saving or losing a life.

    To reduce the time spent by nurses doing this laborious and slow-paced mode of measurement on one child, engineers, and co-founders Teresa Cauvel and Sona Shah have invented a baby hat, dubbed Neopanda, that can give early warning signs to health workers tending to a baby in distress.

    Neopenda which was created by a global health tech start-up in New York will be used among critically ill newborns being cared for at hospitals within low-resource countries.

    Last year, the pair went to Uganda to get design input from nurses and doctors who will in their actual practice use the Neopanda hat and accompanying software.

    “We are developing the Neopenda solution with physicians and nurses in Uganda through iterative, user-centric design to ensure our solution is appropriate for the needs in low-resource settings,” explains the co-founders in a statement.

    The wearable technology contains a device that tracks the four vital signs nurses use to identify babies in distress. Through sensors powered by rechargeable batteries, the hat tracks a baby’s heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation and temperature.

    The data collected is transmitted wirelessly to a central monitor which alerts attending health care professionals when a newborn is in immediate danger.

    The device is powered by a coin cell battery and uses Bluetooth low energy to transmit the date to a user interface. Such data from the device can be used for monitoring and evaluation purposes, consequently improving new-born health initiatives.

    According to the creators, every Neopenda device has the potential to save the life of a newborn for less than $1 once it is produced at scale.

    The creators want to take the next 3 years to demonstrate the feasibility and impact of the technology in Ugandan Neonatal Intensive Care Units. They also plan to scale deployment and sales in Uganda and expand to comparable regional and global markets.

    “We have partnered with the Uganda Pediatric Association, who will be instrumental in helping us navigate the process of testing and deploying in Uganda,” they said in a statement.

    A 2015 report by UNICEF named, ‘Levels and Trends in Child Mortality’ reveal that there is a “95 percent probability the number of children under age five in sub-Saharan Africa will grow by an extra 26 to 57 million, from 157 million in 2015 to between 183 and 214 million in 2030.” With such high levels of death among the infants, innovations like Neopenda come in handy to tackle child mortality in the region.

    Currently, Teresa and Sona are working to improve the prototypes by incorporating design inputs suggested by doctors and nurses in Uganda.

    What’s more, the device is completely safe for newborns as it uses a Bluetooth Low Energy transmitter that is approved by the Federal Communications Commission and complies with all safety recommendations.


    Image credit: Neopenda