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CPAP Machine to Save Lives of Newborns


The neonatal continuous positive airway pressure machine, or CPAP, can be used to save the lives of newborns in developing countries who struggle to breathe after birth. PATH named the neonatal bubble CPAP machine a top breakthrough innovation of 2015 that can help save women and children.

The CPAP machine is used for newborns with breathing difficulties, a leading cause of death in premature babies. The machine contains three main parts: the mask that fits over the nose (or nose and mouth) with straps to keep it in place, the tube that connects to the machine’s motor and the motor that blows air into the tube.

It works using a positive pressure system to help a newborn experiencing respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). RDS is more common in newborns because they have not yet produced enough surfactant, a liquid that coats the lungs to help the baby breathe in air. Without enough surfactant, the infant’s lungs collapse.

The problem is that the neonatal CPAP machine costs up to $6,000, a price tag far too high for most developing countries. Because of this, a group of Rice University faculty, students, clinicians and public and private sector partners dedicated to health technology initiatives sprung into action.

Partnering with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine and 3rd Stone Design, this group, called Rice 360°, created the bubble CPAP to treat infants with RDS in the developing world. Using an aquarium pump to deliver air and a water bottle to relieve pressure, the machine costs as low as $800 instead of $6,000.

With this more reasonable price range and help from the Saving Lives at Birth grant, Rice 360° and its partners are looking to implement the device where it is needed, starting in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania and South Africa. In areas where premature babies have a low chance of survival, the bubble CPAP machine will change the odds and decrease infant mortality.

Hannah Resnick

Sources: NIH 1, NIH 2, PATH, Rice 360°
Photo: Tracheostomy