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Startups Seek A Cure For Costly Medical Devices

Nearly half the babies born in India, especially in rural areas and small towns, come into the world outside a hospital. That’s one of the primary reasons for the high neonatal mortality rate—6.4 lakh babies die within 28 days of birth in India annually, which is nearly a quarter of all such deaths worldwide, according to a UNICEF report published last year.

A common cause of death in newborns here is lack of breathing support, and most such deaths occur during transport to hospital. This is a healthcare problem one is more likely to encounter in a third world country than in a developed nation like the US, where less than 1% of births happen outside hospitals, says A. Vijayarajan, CTO and co-founder of Bengaluru-based InnAccel, whose mission is to develop novel medical devices for India.

One of the devices InnAccel has developed is Saans, named after “breath” in Hindi. The portable device can provide continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) support—to keep airways of patients with respiratory problems open—even to a newborn being transported to a hospital in an autorickshaw. It can run on a battery where there’s no power source. Air can be hand-pumped if the battery fails. The device, showcased at Harvard Medical School, can be hooked to a cylinder to provide extra oxygen if required.

Respiratory distress is common in preterm babies, and India tops the list with 3.5 million deaths annually, according to WHO. Most primary health centres don’t have CPAP machines. Over 50,000 newborns die in the country every year while being transported to a hospital with a neonatal ICU. Many babies who survive the journey end up with lifelong disabilities.

The InnAccel team realized that CPAP machines did not suit the conditions in which millions of babies are born in India. They spent four years to develop and test a portable, affordable CPAP device that does not require much training to use. It launched commercially in India this year and is now being evaluated in Africa. A doctor in a hospital near Bengaluru found a new use case for it when premature babies are transported from a delivery room to the ICU. “This device can have a big impact on keeping babies alive in different situations,” says Vijayarajan. – Livemint