By Hellen nanzia
Hypothermia is one of the leading contributors of neo-natal mortality worldwide. To help reach Millennium Development Goal 4 – reduce deaths in children under age 5 years by two-thirds from 1990 to 2015 – the U.N. Millennium Villages Project uses Embrace Warmers to prevent deaths in newborns in developing countries, where 99 percent of neo-natal deaths occur.
The Embrace Warmer is like a tiny sleeping bag with a removable warm pack that is heated before insertion. It costs $200, less than 1 percent of the cost of a standard incubator. It replaces the use of hot water bottles that are difficult to regulate in temperature and can burn the babies. The rare incubator is much more expensive, consumes more power and requires constant electricity; the Embrace Warmer requires electricity for 30 minutes every four hours to reheat its warm pack.
“The risk of hypothermia is high, even in the hot season of tropical climates such as those of equatorial Uganda and Kenya” documents Jen Zhu a health policy analyst with Millennium Villages Project in Uganda.
The new technology, the Embrace Baby Wrap, is a low-cost baby warmer developed as a class project at Stanford University. A group of graduate students created it as part of a challenge to design an intervention for neo-natal hypothermia that costs less than 1 percent the price of a state-of-the-art incubator. It is now being implemented in health facilities in low-resource areas of the world. I am training approximately 100 health-facility workers on the use of a technology to reduce neo-natal hypothermia in Ugandan and Kenyan villages.
The warmers are used in conjunction with kangaroo mother care, skin-to-skin contact between the mother and infant, the gold standard for helping infants maintain body temperature. The maker recommends using Embrace Warmers in situations where skin-to-skin isn’t an option: when a mother is in transit, caring for other children or twins and higher-order multiples, or recovering from a traumatic birth.
At health centers without enough health workers – a widespread situation in developing countries – every helping hand is needed. Workers such as the grounds caretakers and operation-theater cleaners assist the lone midwife on duty in delivering babies. This project is being rolled out in Kenya and Uganda.