Low-Cost Respiratory Support: Reducing Early Neonatal Death in Rural Malawi

William Marsh Rice University
Organization Location: 
Houston, TX USA

Acute respiratory infections are the leading cause of global child mortality. In the developing world, oxygen therapy is often the only treatment option for babies who are suffering from respiratory distress. Without the added pressure of a bubble Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (bCPAP), babies still struggle to breathe and can suffer serious complications, and frequently death. A stand-alone bCPAP device can cost $6,000, too expensive for most developing world hospitals. By contrast, we have engineered a novel, rugged bCPAP system which can be made in small volume at unit cost of only $160. Moreover, because of its simple design—consumer-grade pumps, medical tubing, and regulators—its maintenance requires only the simple replacement of a 25­cent diaphragm approximately every 2 years. Through a partnership between bioengineers at Rice University, pediatricians at the University of Malawi and Baylor College of Medicine, and industrial design engineers from 3rd Stone Design we will: (1) rigorously test the efficacy of this device at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi and refine it for use in rural district hospitals; (2) design a complementary training program for nurses and electromedical hospital staff; (3) engineer the bCPAP system for commercial manufacture; and (4) develop a country-wide plan to implement bCPAP at all district hospitals in Malawi. We estimate that on the African continent, where nearly one million babies die each year within a week of birth, the availability of affordable, effective bCPAP could reduce early neonatal mortality rates by as much as 30%.

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