This Made-In-Bengaluru Alert Device Is Saving Lives Of Newborns In Papua New Guinea
In India, about 8 million children are born prematurely every year, which is also the leading cause of infant deaths in the country. “Preemies” being underweight, one of the biggest risks they face is hypothermia. However, the perfect solution has been devised by a Bengaluru-based company.
The Bempu Hypothermia Alert Device is saving the lives of thousands of underweight newborns not only in India but also in far off Papua New Guinea (PNG). The watch, when tied on a baby’s wrist, constantly monitors temperature and sends out orange-danger alerts in case the temperature drops significantly, saving the baby from slipping into hypothermia.
Bempu, which is a made-in-India hypothermia alert device, was innovated by Bengaluru-based Ratul Narain in 2016. Ratul is a Stanford University alumnus. The device is now being extensively used by United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) to save newborns from sudden drop in temperature and extreme cold.
Bempu: The life-saving Tempwatch
Bempu has a built-in algorithm that lets parents know if the new-born baby is hypothermic or is at the stage of slipping into a state of hypothermia. The device is quite simple to use and comprehend. All one has to do is place Bempu on the baby’s wrist and then wait for a duration of five minutes. If a blue light starts blinking from the bracelet at an interval of 30 seconds, it means the baby is warm. If an orange light blinks and an alarm sound is set off, it means the baby is cold and is entering hypothermia’s first stage. This gives parents enough time to jump into action and inform the doctors, in the meanwhile keeping the newborn warm by swaddling them with warm clothes or holding them close to their skin.
Bempu was developed with a sole aim of ensuring that a premature and low-weight newborn maintains a healthy temperature. The device is capable of working non-stop for four whole weeks and can be replaced if the baby’s health still requires it.
However, as all great inventions come with a price, so does Bempu TempWatch. “The cost is Rs 2,000 per unit, which is very expensive, considering it can be used only for one child. Currently, we are using it on newborns with low birth weight for a month. Hypothermia also affects babies who are 2-3 months old. But as it is expensive and cannot be reused after a month, there is scope for further development of the device. It would be great if the device can also sense hyperthermia or sudden increase in temperature,” said Dr Ghanshyam Sethy, UNICEF health specialist working in PNG, in an interview with The Times of India.
What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is a physical condition where the body loses too much heat, causing a low body temperature. While a normal body temperature is around 98.6 F (37 C), hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C).
Hypothermia can occur not only when a person is exposed to extreme cold conditions for a long time but can also occur indoors, a condition that can turn out to be dangerous as well as life-threatening. It is a constant concern for newborns and the elderly. Babies are not efficient to react on and regulate their body temperatures. They are susceptible to losing body heat easily and therefore it is crucial to keep them warm. A body temperature below 97 F is considered unsafe for babies.
Nearly 41% of all under-five child deaths are among newborn infants, especially babies in their first 28 days of life or the neonatal period. Additionally, the risk of a baby’s death in the first four weeks of life is nearly 15 times greater than any other time before his or her first birthday.
Ratul Narain’s journey
“Allowing families to prevent infant health problems at home is what made me work on a low-cost solution,” said Bempu’s designer, Ratul Narain. A graduate in Biomechanical engineering and with a post-graduate degree in Mechanical engineering from Stanford, Ratul later worked with big organizations in the cardiovascular and neonatal health space that later led to his specific interest in exploring neonatal health.
“I wanted to create something that would have a massive impact. With the neonatal space, we are trying to make the biggest impact we can in people’s lives and their health. If you make a difference to a baby’s life, it actually has a drastic impact on the next 60–80 years of their life,” said Ratul in an interview with Social Story.
Ratul, in the year 2013, started his journey to understand the existing infrastructure in the neonatal healthcare in India, then finding the gaps in it and later working towards fixing the gaps with his knowledge. He performed on-ground reality tests, meeting the pediatricians and neonatologists all across India. Further, he spent a considerable amount of time in pediatric centers in privileged hospitals, government hospitals, and rural clinics across India.
He recalls, “I hung out there to understand the life of the doctor, the life of a patient, etc. I was literally there with a notebook listing the healthcare gaps I saw – why did a baby get sick. Why did a baby arrive dead at the hospital?
In the US, a hospital would keep an underweight baby in an incubator until the baby is at a healthy weight and only then discharge the baby. In India, low birth-weight babies are discharged even at 1.2 kg.
Eventually, years of extensive research finally led him to find an answer to the most basic situation of temperature monitoring for the babies that could save a significant number of lives. Later, he received a grant from the prestigious Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop an alert device for hypothermia. The device was skillfully designed, prototyped and clinically tested within a year of its funding.