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This blog gathers the latest technical and energy advancements and discoveries important to emerging markets and poverty alleviation.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Unleashing Innovation: The Story Behind the Low-Cost Incubator 'Embrace'

By Linus Liang

A prototype Embrace, a low-cost incubator. (Image credit: Embrace)

Editor's Note: As some of the world’s leading social innovators come together from March 28-30 at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, Link TV’s ViewChange project and Huffington Post Impact, in collaboration with McKinsey & Company’s Social Sector Office, have joined to take a look at some of the most exciting social innovations taking place around the world. From bomb-sniffing rats to electricity-generating soccer balls, the half-hour documentary special  “ViewChange Unleashing Innovation” showcases the unexpected ways that innovators are working together to create better lives.  

 
Like many of you, I've always wanted to use my short time in this world to change it for the better. Three years ago I fortunately had the opportunity to meet some amazing people at Stanford University who also shared this passion. The four of us met in a design class where we were tasked with finding ways to reduce infant mortality. Infant mortality of course is a huge problem and one of the UN's eight Millenium Development Goals; along with combating disease, and reducing extreme poverty and hunger. Unfortunately this goal in particular has not made as much progress as the others, so we decided to change that.
 
We spent every hour of the day researching and talking to people about the problem. What we found is that one of the leading causes of infant mortality is lack of proper incubation. It turns out that many of the millions of babies who die in developing countries are actually born just slightly lower than normal birth weight, or are just a few weeks premature. However, since these babies' bodily systems are not yet fully developed, they are unable to regulate their own body temperature. This is extremely stressful on such a young life and if you give them proper incubation, even for a few days, you can make huge impacts on their long-term health.
 
This is the main function of a traditional $20,000 incubator, which is too costly for many clinics and hospitals in the developing world. We focused on this temperature issue and set out find a cheaper solution. What we came up with is a device that costs less than 1 percent of of a traditional incubator. And while Embrace doesn't replace an incubator, it still meets the needs of the babies we seek to help.
 
The way it works is incredibly simple; we use an old technology called phase change material. This wax-like material has a very special property in that it can stay warm for long periods of time. Most importantly though is that it stays warm at a constant temperature - in our case 37C - exactly what babies need. We then packaged this material into a small pouch that can be warmed using our special heating device. Once it is warm, you put it in an insulated sleeping bag and finally you place the baby inside.
 
Embrace has been an incredible part of my life and in the last three years I’m proud to say we’ve completed the design, our clinical trials, and regulatory filings. We are now finally donating units to the people who need it and impacting the lives of thousands of babies.
 
 

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    William Davidson Institute
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    Citi Foundation
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