Group needs funding to get infant warmers into clinics


Three years ago at Stanford University, something amazing happened. It was in a graduate class that mixed business and engineering students. Embrace co-founder Jane Chen was one of them.

"You come together to develop affordable solutions for people living on less than $1 a day," Chen said.

Every year around the world an estimated 20 million babies are born either premature or simply weighing less than they should. Chen's team was challenged to come up with a low cost way to keep newborns warm.

"One of the biggest problems they face is staying warm because they are so tiny they don't have enough body fat to regulate their own temperature and for that reason many of them either die, or they grow up with severe long term health problems," Chen said.

The students were looking for an alternative to incubators, which cost $20,000 each, and are not a good option in many parts of the developing world.

"You need something that could work without a constant supply of electricity, that's easy enough for mothers and midwives to use, given that so many births still take place in a home setting, something that's portable, easy to sterilize," Chen said.

After intensive research, they developed a product that costs just $200.

"It looks like a little sleeping bag for an infant," Chen said.

They called their creation the Embrace Infant Warmer. The key is a wax-like substance that's heated to body temperature in a special warmer. It's slipped into the back of the bag and will keep the baby warm for 4-6 hours.

The team formed a non-profit organization and kept working on the product after graduation. They've won design awards and caused a sensation when the warmer was featured a year ago on an ABC News special.

"We knew we had something that was immensely important not only to us as a team but also to the world," Embrace co-founder Naganand Murty said.

But getting the Embrace product into widespread use in developing countries is proving to be a long tough process. First, the team fine tuned the warmers to be user friendly in a wide variety of situations. Private donations and foundation grants helped pay for the product development, but that's just the beginning.

"What we are trying to do right now is set apart a pool of funding that will go directly towards purchasing these warmers and then we can give them to needy clinics," Chen said.

Raising that money will take time. The Embrace warmer has already been used successfully on more than 300 babies. But millions of infants die every year because they can't keep warm, so the team is hoping donors will come forward soon.

"We're really excited to just get the product out there and in the hands of the people who need it," Chen said.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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