$200 "infant warmer" could save India's tiniest citizens

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | December 20, 2010
A heated sleeping bag that costs about the same as an Xbox or ticket to a New York Jets game could help save tens of thousands of low birth weight babies throughout India.

Priced at around $200, the heated nylon bag helps keep babies' body temperature from falling below 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit and suffering from hypothermia, one of the leading causes of death and sickness for lightweight newborns.

It's also possibly within reach of poorer urban and rural clinics that couldn't afford a real incubator, which costs upward of $20,000, according to the company that invented the device.

"At less than $200, it is a fraction of the cost of the existing warmers on the market," Carrie Eglinton Manner, general manager of maternal infant care for GE Healthcare, which is distributing the device in India, told DOTmed News. "It's a tremendous, disruptive technology."

Nearly 20 million low birth weight or premature babies are born each year, and thousands die each day, often because they lack access to technology that keeps them warm in their perilous first period of life.

The device is made by San Francisco-based Embrace, founded by Stanford University students who came up with the idea during a class project.

The warmer consists of a nylon bag and a sealed pouch full of wax that's heated by an electric heater. The warmer stays at the lifesaving temperature range for about four hours, and can be reused, Embrace said.

Although only about one percent the cost of a traditional incubator, when the Embrace infant warmer was announced a year ago, the suggested price was $25. But Manner said that was an aspirational target. "We intend to continue developing products that are lower costs to increase access," she said.

Embrace also has mentioned creating a heating bag that can be warmed with hot water, and not require electricity.

India was chosen as the first site to roll out the device because it has more than 26 million births a year, with some of the world's highest infant mortality and prematurity rates, GE said. The devices will likely officially launch in March, after it gets CE marking.