Neonatal mortality is a pressing global epidemic that claims the lives of approximately 6,400 infants under one-month-old every day worldwide. Reducing the number of global neonatal deaths is possible through improvements in neonatal health care.
The prominence of neonatal mortality closely aligns with fiscal poverty and access to adequate health care. In 2019, BMC Pregnancy Childbirth published a study by Yousra A. Mohamoud and others revealing that in high-poverty nations, children are 38% more likely to die during their first month of life. Underfunded hospital systems in developing nations often lack the necessary personnel and resources to provide quality neonatal and maternal care. This leads to a higher number of home births without proper sanitation in low-income areas, along with difficulty acquiring crucial vaccinations for newborns.
Improvements in Neonatal Health Care: Chlorhexidine Gel
Few physicians could have anticipated that an ingredient in mouthwash would be a key player in improving neonatal health care, but oftentimes solutions present themselves in unexpected ways. Over the past decade, chlorhexidine, an antiseptic used in store-bought mouthwashes, has become a revolutionary agent in newborn health care.
In developed nations, it is typical to cut a baby’s umbilical cord and allow the stump to fall off without any special treatment. However, in developing nations, where birth conditions often lack proper sanitation, bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli can enter the stump and cause fatal infections.
In 2012, the United Nations released a report encouraging the use of chlorhexidine to clean newborns’ umbilical cords, claiming it could save nearly half a million children’s lives within 5 years. It sounded like a cut-and-dry solution to umbilical infections, yet, there was a catch; liquid chlorhexidine was not widely available in impoverished areas.
Responding to this challenge, scientists at GSK Pharmaceuticals formulated a chlorhexidine gel that could be easily applied and transported. The gel was designed to withstand the high temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and it has reached more than 30,000 newborns so far. A study that occurred in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan suggests that the use of chlorhexidine gel reduces neonatal mortality by an impressive 23%.
The Brilliance Lamp
Another common health threat that infants face is untreated jaundice. Every year, 6 million newborns suffer from jaundice, which is a build-up of bilirubin in the bloodstream, without receiving sufficient treatment.
Typically, jaundice is treated with specially-engineered phototherapy lamps, but in low-income areas, hospitals rely on expensive, inefficient and difficult-to-replace fluorescent lightbulbs. About 95% of global phototherapy technology in low-income health care systems fails to meet basic performance standards.
D-Rev, a California nonprofit focusing on medical innovation, noticed this gap in health care technology and began to formulate a solution called the Brilliance Jaundice Lamp.
The Brilliance Jaundice Lamp is a phototherapy machine that replaces traditional light bulbs with long-lasting LEDs. While a typical bulb can treat 50 babies, an LED bulb can treat 1,000, making it a cost-effective and low-maintenance model for health care systems.
As of 2020, health care workers have used the Brilliance Lamp to treat more than 500,000 babies and the lamp has saved 7,500 lives. D-Rev has distributed the lamp to developing countries and rural hospital systems worldwide and is currently dominating the Indian neonatal health market.
PeriGen AI Software
Low-income hospitals often struggle with low nurse-to-patient ratios, making it nearly impossible to continuously monitor infants for health issues. However, with PeriGen AI, overworked nurses have one less task on their plate.
PeriGen’s fetal monitoring technology scans infants’ vitals without interruption, transmitting data to PeriGen’s Houston, Texas headquarters for assessment and sending data back instantly, notifying doctors if there is any change in regularity. This allows a single remote command center to monitor multiple facilities in rural or understaffed hospitals.
Dziwenji Makombe, head nurse matron at the Area 25 Hospital in Malawi, shared, “Adopting the use of artificial intelligence to inform health care providers about the fetal condition has proven to be the best quality improvement strategy in preventing birth asphyxia and stillbirths in this setting.”
PeriGen’s groundbreaking use of artificial intelligence has allowed for detailed neonatal monitoring and timely treatment, saving countless lives. Thousands of health professionals across the world currently use it.
Improvements in Neonatal Health Care Through Scientific Ingenuity
From 1990 to 2020, the number of neonatal deaths across the globe decreased from 5 million to 2.4 million, with scientific innovation playing a massive role. Using chlorhexidine as a post-birth treatment, the Brilliance lamp and PeriGen’s AI are just a slim sampling of the creativity and dedication to change that is transforming the neonatal health care field.
– Elena Unger