Embrace Babies: A Better Way

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Shane Snow, in Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, shares another excellent example of a Better Way.

Several years ago, Jane Chen read an article about the ghastly AIDS epidemic in mainland China. Being from Taiwan, she realized that she “won the genetic lottery” as she could have been born there. She changed jobs, attended Stanford Business School, and took a course called “Design for Extreme Affordability” – how to create products for people who live on less than a dollar a day.

She then learned about the fact that 20 million premature or low-weight infants are born each year, most born in developing countries. In the first world, one-kilogram infants could be nursed to full health in an incubator in a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In poor countries like India and Pakistan (which account for 25% of the world’s preterm births), mothers had no access to such care – and millions of their babies die within their first year.  What could be done?  Typical incubators cost $20,000-40,000 and require electricity, something not available to these mothers.

They started making a “cheaper glass box” but realized that really wouldn’t meet the needs of most of these mothers at the time. So they changed their frame of reference: what else might save babies’ lives?

Doing so, led to an interesting question: what features did the babies really need to survive. The answer they discovered was primarily just warmth. NICUs kept premature babies nice and toasty; most premature infant mortalities involved complications from simply being too cold, in part because the babies had too little fat to keep them warm once outside the mother’s womb. Thus the goal was to find a way to keep a baby at a constant 98.6 degrees for less than $20,000.

The result: Embrace – a tight insulated sleeping bag for babies. The pouch had two compartments, one for the baby and one for a hot pad that’s heated in a small box. The tight enclosure kept the baby’s own body heat from escaping; the insulation and pad regulate the temperature for four to six hours on a 30 minute charge. Cost of production – about $25. Jane and her team moved to India for field testing and improving the basic model. Over 39,000 infants have already been protected by Embrace – which also won design awards, grants and venture investments. The “goal is to get these for every baby in the world”.

Clearly, Embrace is a Better Way.  Share your stories of other Better Ways – and let’s inspire even more.