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A baby saving innovation – the Embrace infant warmer

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One of our lighthouse projects in the field of Medical care and clinical practice is the Embrace warmer. It was designed to improve healthcare in low-resource settings to help vulnerable newborns survive and thrive.

Embrace co-founder and Chief Business Officer Jane Chen with a baby kept in an Embrace warmer. (© Embrace Innovations)

When infants are born preterm, they lack the body fat that is necessary to regulate their own temperature. As a consequence, room temperature can feel freezing cold. Many hospitals in developing countries do not have consistent electricity and are unable to transport hypothermic newborns to get the care they need. A team around Jane Chen, co-founder of Embrace, a non-profit organisation with the mission of advancing maternal and child health by delivering innovative solutions to the world’s most vulnerable populations, has worked on a solution for this challenge. Their aim is to reduce the number of deaths each year among the one million preterm newborns in developing countries who don’t have access to lifesaving medical technology.

The Embrace warmer is an easy-to-use, portable, sleeping-bag-like transport incubator (humidicrib) and infant warmer that does not need continuous power supply. As a medical device designed for hospitals and ambulances, it is used in neonatal intensive care units and wards, as well as for transport, when skin-to-skin care (a part of Kangaroo Mother Care / KMC) is not possible. The Embrace warmer thus helps combat preventable and treatable complications related to prematurity and low birth weight, including neonatal hypothermia, a medical emergency that occurs when the body temperature drops too low, of less than about 95 F (35 C).

In an interview, co-founder Jane Chen talked about her vision: “One piece of my legacy will be making the Embrace warmer a standard of care, one that complements existing natural practices like skin-to-skin care. I want to ensure that every baby in need of temperature regulation can get it and that no baby dies from being cold. Beyond that, my legacy is about building a platform by which we, as an organisation, innovate really disruptive technology that can save babies and mothers around the world.”

The Embrace warmer was developed within a design class at Stanford University called Design for Extreme Affordability. The challenge was to build a baby incubator that costs less than 1 % of the cost of a traditional incubator, which is $20,000. This technology by Chen and her team has gained international recognition. Chen has even been honoured by former US President Obama at the White House, and her project is supported by numerous organisations, like the Clinton Global Initiative, and celebrities, like the singer Beyoncé. It has also been featured in various media around the globe.

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