More than 20 million babies are born prematurely worldwide each year, and keeping them warm is crucial for keeping them well. Traditional incubators - priced anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000 - are out of reach for many developing countries, and a group of Stanford graduate students recently developed a low-cost alternative. As described by Ellen Lee in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Their design was simple: A cozy nylon sleeping bag swaddles the baby. Inside the back of the bag is a pouch where they insert a heating pad filled with a wax-like substance. The pad is heated in an electric warmer or, if no electricity is available, in a water warmer, for 20 minutes. Slipped inside the sleeping bag, the heating pad can keep the baby warm for four to six hours.
Instead of $20,000 each, their solution will cost about $200 - possibly less. It can be used at home, in hospitals and clinics, and as a means to transport infants from a village to a hospital in a larger city.
The entrepreneurs tested their product and started a company, Embrace, and they plan to sell the portable incubators in India, other parts of Asia and Africa by the end of the year. The infant warmer might also have applications in the U.S: In an upcoming trial at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital, it will be used as a way for preemies to stay close to their mothers.