Monday, April 1, 2013

Saving Little Lives - Life Saving Embrace

HEATING TOUCH: Around 8 million low birth weight babies are born in India each year. About 1.2 million of them die, many because of lack of access to a simple resource—heat. It’s this problem that Bangalore-based Embrace addresses. Started by four Stanford students—Jane Chen (in pic), Rahul Panicker, Naganand Murty and Linus Liang—the enterprise produces lightweight, portable Thermpod that performs the same function as a traditional incubator, albeit at 1% of the cost and a fraction of the power. “It was essential to create a product that did not depend on uninterrupted electricity and was not intimidating,” says Panicker, who saw too many donated incubators lying unused in hospitals for lack of technical know-how. Despite its size, Embrace is one giant step for the little ones !
WARM-UP EXERCISE: Rahul Panicker and Naganand Murty with the low-cost incubator
Bangalore-based start-up Embrace has created a low-cost infant warmer that promises to save the lives of premature babies who lack access to expensive incubators.
 In 2007, four students of Stanford University came together at the Institute of Design at Stanford, informally known as They were from different educational backgrounds and disciplines: Jane Chen was in an MBA programme, Rahul Panicker was working on his PhD in Artificial Intelligence, Naganand Murty was earning an MS in management science and engineering, and Linus Liang an MS in computer science. All they had in common was that they belonged to Stanford University and shared a love of design.

Together, they created something wonderful. It started as a class project for a module titled ‘Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability’.
 The challenge was to create a low-cost infant incubator. Initially, the group worked to create an inexpensive version of the incubator used in hospital NICUs, that cost between Rs 2 lakh and Rs 13 lakh.

 “We started making a cheaper glass box,” says Rahul Panicker. “But we realized something was wrong. We stopped in our tracks and asked ourselves: do we need a cheaper glass box or something that will save babies’ lives?” says Naganand Murty.

They went back to the drawing board, and started with the fundamental fact that low birth-weight babies need warmth. “Premature babies are born with very little subcutaneous fat. Most weigh less than 2.5kg, some only 850gm, and basically need to stay warm so their bodies can finish developing,” says Panicker.
The team developed a lightweight, portable device that worked just as well as an electricity-intensive incubator. The final product consists of three main components: a snug sleeping bag in which the baby can be wrapped, a pouch containing a patented phase-change material and a heater (running on electricity) in which this pouch can be heated and then inserted into the sleeping bag unit.

At 1% the cost of a traditional incubator, they had created a device equally good at saving vulnerable infant lives.
They won rave reviews on campus and many plan and design competitions, but there came a time when they had to decide what to do with their product. “We could have walked away from it but we didn’t have the heart to,” says Murty.

So they returned to India and started versioning the product. Today, the Bangalore-based team runs a 30-member organization called Embrace, and launched their patented low-cost infant warmer in April 2011.
They conducted clinical trials across Karnataka and in rural areas of other states. “It was essential to create a product that does not depend on uninterrupted electricity and is not intimidating,” says Panicker, who reveals that in hospital after hospital, they saw donated incubators lying unused because there weren’t enough people who had the technical know-how to use it.
In comparison, their product can be used even by an unlettered mother — it just involves inserting the heating pad into the heater, warming it for 20 minutes, and placing it in the sleeping bag. Their best moment was watching a new mother in a Sargur hospital confidently operating the unit, says Murty.

Once the pad is heated, the charge lasts a minimum of four hours, and one heater can serve a single location. “Eventually, we plan to create units that are not dependent on electricity, using pads that can be heated by hot water,” explains Panicker.
They’ve placed about 50 units across hospitals in Bangalore and Karnataka and their manufacturing unit has the capacity to roll out 2,000 units in a quarter. Each unit is priced at Rs 11,000.

The team’s biggest challenge was cracking the distribution network. Now, they’ve forged a partnership with GE Healthcare to distribute the product in India and abroad.
Their vision is to make the product available in developing markets, and requests are pouring in on their website from countries like Peru, Bangladesh and the Philippines. That’s not all. In an interesting turn of events, researchers at Stanford University are working with Embrace’s product to see how it fits the needs of hospitals in the US. That’s the future.

Given the fact that 8 million low birthweight babies are born in India each year, and around 1.2 million of them die, this is a truly life-altering idea !

Source: The Times of India.

No comments:

Post a Comment