All babies deserve a healthy start in life, but surviving and thriving as a newborn in the developing world can be particularly hard.
Nearly 3 million infants die in their first week every year, according to the World Health Organization. Virtually all of those deaths — a staggering 99 percent — occur in developing countries, mostly in Africa and South Asia.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Almost all 3 million infants could be saved by low-tech, low-cost care. Luckily there are altruistic innovators working to develop life-saving solutions that harness the power of technology.
Here are seven wearables helping babies from low-income regions in the crucial first few days of their lives.
1. Baby hats that monitor vital signs
Neopenda is a hat designed to support infant health and survival in developing nations. The hat, which looks unsuspecting except for the square sensor attached to its side, monitors heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen saturation and temperature. If the sensor indicates any cause for concern, the system automatically alerts hospital staff workers through an app.
The hats are currently being used in Uganda where hospital overcrowding is a nationwide problem. Giving infants dedicated attention is rare, but Neopenda can help.
2. The sleeping bag helping to curb hypothermia
Hypothermia is a common cause of death in premature and low-weight infants in developing nations. In some regions in India, as many as 43 percent of babies develop neonatal hypothermia. This simple sleeping bag-like device could help change that.
The Embrace Infant Warmer is a full-body innovation that helps regulate a baby’s temperature during their vulnerable first days. The award-winning innovation is reusable, low-cost and doesn’t require electricity — making it ideal for poor communities around the globe.
The device costs less than 1 percent of the price of radiant warmers and transport incubators traditionally used to treat hypothermia, according to the creators. The warmer has helped regulate the temperature of more than 200,000 infants in South India so far.
3. A $1 digital necklace containing an infant’s medical history
Without reliable health records, which are a rarity in developing nations, making medical decisions for patients is inefficient and risky. When health care workers are dealing with the fragile health of a baby, it gets even riskier.
But Khushi Baby is a low-cost, no-battery necklace making medical histories wearable. The device stores the medical information of both a mother and child, making it easily accessible via an app that health care workers can download anytime, anywhere.
The $1 necklaces are currently being used by more than 4,000 infants in remote, low-income regions throughout India.
4. The bootie that gets sick infants the attention they need
Hospitals in developing countries are often overcrowded, meaning vulnerable infants often get overlooked in the shuffle. But a simple bootie can make all the difference in alerting medical staff to the needs of at-risk infants.
The SPOtwo Bootie is a low-cost wearable that provides reliable measurements and analysis of a sick infant’s vital signs. The $8 device, which wraps around a baby’s foot, was specifically designed to be cost effective for low-income regions.
Vital signs detected by the bootie’s sensor are sent to a mobile app for health workers to review. The device also stores information in a secure cloud service.
The SPOtwo Bootie can identify low oxygen saturation, congenital heart disease and severe infections during the first few weeks of life.
5. The reliable temperature tracker monitoring sick babies
TempTraq is a 24-hour thermometer that continuously senses and records an infant’s temperature. The data is then delivered to medical staff through an app, alerting them of any concerning changes. The low-cost, single-use device doesn’t need to be sterilized and has more accurate readings than traditional thermometers.
TempTraq is perfect for infants who need constant temperature monitoring and are at risk for extremely high fevers. The innovation is currently being used in pediatric units in Uganda.
Previously, with only one nurse for every 40 patients in these pediatric units, vital signs were only checked once or twice a day. Now, at-risk babies can be be monitored constantly.
6. A monitor designed to save infants from malaria
More than 500,000 children in developing nations die of malaria every year. The disease especially impacts infants, who struggle to fight off the disease’s symptoms once it progresses.
A wearable body temperature device called TermoTell can diagnose malaria early, getting an infant with the disease vital medical attention fast. The low-cost bracelet is used to monitor and analyze a child’s temperature and sweat in real time. Designed for infants and toddlers under 5, the device is waterproof, soft and chewable.
TermoTell is already being used by children in Nigeria, where malaria is a risk for 97 percent of the population. There are an estimated 100 million malaria cases in Nigeria per year, with more than 300,000 deaths.
7. The slipper that gives full vital readings
Owlet is a wearable slipper that gives a full reading of an infant’s vital signs, all while keeping their feet warm.
Using pulse oximetry — the same technology used by Apple Watch — Owlet tracks infants’ heart rates and oxygen levels to give medical professionals insights into how a baby is breathing. The innovation, which connects to a mobile app, could help medical providers in overcrowded hospitals figure out which infants need immediate attention.
Though the reusable slipper retails for $250, the device has the potential to replace expensive and complex hospital equipment, and simplify the process of monitoring oxygen and heart rate.