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Boston Children's Hospital Global Health

Electricity free Infant Baby Warmer

electricity-free-infant LOCATION: Rwanda
TOPIC: Maternal, Child and Infant Care & Non-Communicable Disease

Hypothermia, or low body temperature, in infants remains a leading cause of neonatal mortality even in places with warm climates such as sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia; underweight and premature babies are particularly susceptible to hypothermia.  Dr.  Anne Hansen, MD, MPH, the medical director for Boston Children’s Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, has been working with collaborators at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Institute for Globally Transformative Technology (LIGTT) to develop a warming pad that can keep a newborn warm for hours at a time without the need for electricity making it ideal for a resource-limited setting. To warm the pad, Hansen has turned to something all cultures can access: hot water. The warming pad is made up of a “phase-change” material that can retain heat for hours. Its plastic coating can easily be washed with soapy water, making it readily reusable.  A prototype of the pad has already been developed and shown to health care providers in Rwanda, where Hansen is working to study its safety and efficacy. Although it’s not ready for mass production, Hansen hopes to design the infant warmer so it could be manufactured locally, allowing Rwandans to produce and sell the pads on their own terms. And if she can keep the price point low enough, hospitals, clinics and midwives could potentially purchase multiple pads, warming one up as another cools and keeping a newborn warm for days on end. As Hansen says, “Babies should not be dying of hypothermia. This has to be a fixable problem.”