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Friday, December 18, 2009

Using familiar technology to provide low cost and serviceable medical equipment in rural areas

This fall Design that Matters contracted our team of designers and engineers to build a second generation prototype incubator for developing countries using Toyota truck parts and other off the shelf components.

Every year worldwide over four million infants die within a month of birth. Of this number, 3.9 million are in the developing world. In developing countries, not only is there limited access to modern, high tech incubators, but a lack of infrastructure and replacement parts often render such devices useless. Conventional incubators designed for industrialized markets can cost up to US$30K. These devices are of limited utility in a rural clinic due to cost, maintenance and infrastructure requirements, and the lack of training for clinical personnel.

The goal of NeoNurture is to create a low-cost incubator and isolation unit for infant care in rural health clinics in developing countries using locally available parts and a familiar mechanical language. The challenge is to deliver quality care to a vast patient-base far from an urban center at a low cost. The product’s primary function will be to assist at-risk babies – including those who are premature or who have respiratory complications, bacterial infections, or low birth weight – by providing a temperature controlled environment and by maintaining the infant body temperature within an acceptable range in a rural clinical setting.

NeoNurture takes advantage of an abundant local resource in developing countries: car parts and the knowledge of auto technicians. This incubator leverages the existing supply chain of the auto industry and the technical understanding of local car mechanics. Among other components, it uses sealed-beam headlights as a heating element, a dashboard fan circulates convective heat, signal lights and a door chime serve as alarms, and a motorcycle battery and car cigarette lighter provide alternative energy sources. Our challenge is to use accessible parts while also meeting the needs of the infant, health care workers, and those who maintain and clean the device. We are creating an incubator that anyone - whether living in the richest country or the poorest - will be comfortable using.

NeoNurture is composed of two distinct parts: the base and the bassinet. The bassinet is detachable from the base and a surrounding handle allows two people to easily carry the newborn up and down stairs and over uneven ground--important features in the context of a rural hospital where infants often need to be carried long distances between the delivery room and the newborn intensive care unit (NICU), and industrialized-world conveniences like elevators are nonexistent.

The bassinet houses all of the mechanical systems for the incubator. The system functions by powering two sealed beam headlights which provide warmth through conduction (warming the mattress from below) and convection (a motor blower which brings in filtered outside air for warming or cooling). The body also houses a door chime and signal lights which alert healthcare workers when the temperature of the baby or the environment rises or falls out of range. NeoNurture has built in power regulation, a low-cost addition is not standard in most US equipment, but critical in a developing countries where voltage spikes due to power outages lead to 95% of donated equipment breaking down within five years. A motorcycle battery and 12 volt car charger serve as additional power sources during travel from a home to a clinic or from a clinic to the hospital.
CEO: Timothy Prestero
Project Manager: Tom Weis
Design Team: Emily Rothschild, Paul Sherwood-Berndt, Huy Vu, Tom Weis, Mike Donelly, Timothy Prestero
Photographer & Illustrator: Huy Vu
Copy writer: Timothy Prestero, Emily Rothschild

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