WHAT IS PRETERM BIRTH?
According to the WHO, Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) have more than 80 million underserved babies annually with more than 3.3 million preventable deaths. One clear factor in neonatal morbidity and mortality in developing countries is the lack of functioning infant incubators.
In LMICs, newborns are usually presented with multiple life threatening illness and conditions that can be treated with incubators. However, the delivery of affordable, quality healthcare is prevented by inadequate hospital NICU infrastructure, a scarcity of qualified healthcare providers, and fragmented care pathways.
Preterm babies are prone to serious illnesses or death during the neonatal period. Without appropriate treatment, those who survive are at increased risk of lifelong disability and poor quality of life. Complications of prematurity are the single largest cause of neonatal death and the second leading cause of deaths among children under the age of 5 years.
Global efforts to further reduce child mortality demand urgent action to address preterm birth. This leads to billions of dollars in human and capital loses annually. Currently, there are no affordable, fully functional incubators for low-resource and emergency settings. Modern hospital incubators are stationary, large and heavy, and require a constant 110-240V electricity, are prohibitively expensive to purchase and complex to disinfect and to maintain.
Preterm birth, defined as childbirth occurring at less than 37 completed weeks or 259 days of gestation, is a major determinant of neonatal mortality and morbidity and has long-term adverse consequences for health. Children who are born prematurely have higher rates of cerebral palsy, sensory deficits, learning disabilities and respiratory illnesses compared with children born at term.
The health complications of preterm infants include inability with regards to breathing, breastfeeding, and maintenance of optimum body temperature. The neonates are also more prone to jaundice, anemia, and other chronic diseases. Preterm births are a serious global social and economical problem with uneven distribution.
WHO IS MOST AFFECTED?
12.9 million births (9.6% of all births worldwide) were preterm. Approximately 11 million (85%) of these preterm births were concentrated in Africa and Asia, while about 0.5 million occurred in Europe and North America and 0.9 million in Latin America and the Caribbean. Globally 2.5 million newborns died in the first month of life in 2017. There are approximately 7,000 newborn deaths every day, amounting to 47% of all child deaths under the age of 5, an increase from 40% in 1990.
WHERE DOES IT HAPPEN?
The highest rates of preterm birth were in Africa and North America (11.9% and 10.6% of all births, respectively), and the lowest were in Europe (6.2%). Neonatal deaths now account for 40 percent of all deaths under the age of 5 (WHO, UNICEF 2012).
WHAT ARE THE COSTS?
The morbidity associated with preterm birth often extends to later life, resulting in enormous physical, psychological and economic costs. Estimates indicate that in 2005 the cost to the U.S. alone associated with preterm birth were more than US$ 26.2 billion.
WHO IS MOST AFFECTED?
The development and use of Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) saved millions of lives, but neonatal incubators are still larger than necessary and too expensive to meet demand causing less units to be equipped per hospital. The complexity also makes them difficult to transport and to maintain. An ideal NICU will allow direct access without compromising the internal environment. The portable structure should allow a heat source, oxygen supplementation, fluid level maintenance and be able to sustain high air humidity to prevent dehydration via skin and respiratory evaporation. Protection from contaminants, noise and temperature change are also critical aspects of NICU isolation. A dynamic, multi-modal NICU will insure that one unit can provide many treatments, such as phototherapy for jaundice.
Across 185 countries, the rate of preterm birth ranges from 5% to 18% of babies born. A NICU would provide the greatest clinical benefit to reduce over 35% of children under five who die from neonatal causes.