A baby swaddled in an Embrace blanket, which performs the job of an incubator for a mere 1 percent of the price. Photo by: Embrace

Few things can evoke a profound sense of calm as the sight of an infant swaddled in a blanket. Swaddling, in fact, has been proven to provide newborns security and warmth. That’s why mothers who give birth in a health facility will most certainly receive instruction on how to swaddle their babies properly before they are allowed to go home.

The art of swaddling has been taken to a whole new level by a team of young entrepreneurs, IT experts, engineers, health workers, and social activists from all over the world. They developed an innovative blanket that has the potential to save the lives of millions of infants born prematurely or suffering from low birth weight.

Dubbed the “Embrace Infant Warmer,” the device, which looks like a miniature sleeping bag, performs the job of an incubator for a mere 1 percent of the price.

Sadly, the widespread lack of incubators has contributed to the death, each year, of an estimated 4 million babies within the first month of life. Translated, that means around 450 of these babies die each hour. In total, 20 million babies are born prematurely or with dangerously low weight each year, most of them in developing countries.

That many poor communities lack access to an incubator is hardly surprising, considering that a traditional incubator can cost as much as $20,000. By contrast, the Embrace Infant Warmer costs $200. And the price is expected to become even lower “as manufacturing of the product reaches scale,” according to its developers.

Specifically designed for developing countries, Embrace features technology that is deceptively simple. Made of hypoallergenic material, the warmer has a panel that holds wax sealed in a pouch. The wax can be warmed through an electric heater or simply by submerging it in hot water.

With the heated wax placed inside it, Embrace can provide heat to an infant at a constant temperature for four to six hours. This is key for survival, as premature infants often die of hypothermia because their bodies are unable to regulate temperature. The pouch is made of a special material that will absorb heat from the baby if the baby gets too hot, or release heat if the baby gets too cold.

The infant warmer may be used with or without electricity, at home or in a health care facility. It is reusable and easy to clean. And the best part? It allows close interaction between mother and child, unlike an incubator that separates an infant from its mother, often for weeks.

The blanket has been tested since April in south India, where it has helped the likes of Priya, a 2.6 pound baby girl who otherwise had a very slim chance of surviving. By staying in the infant warmer for several days straight, Priya gained weight within a few weeks and was allowed to go home.

The developers of Embrace, who now operate the U.S.-based social enterprise of the same name, are trying to raise as much as $1.5 million over the next four years to distribute the product worldwide. Donations will also help sustain the enterprise “until revenue equals expenditures.” Embrace will reinvest future profits into the company, in line with its vision to become a self-sustaining enterprise.

The organization plans to expand into Zambia, Uganda, China and Haiti this year by partnering with non-governmental organizations, clinics and orphanages there.

Poor countries have been largely overlooked by a business community clamoring for mid- to high-income economies. But social enterprises like Embrace recognize the largely untapped market that the developing world presents. With innovative ideas and the people who have a passion for making noble goals come true, these organizations realize that it’s possible to do business and save lives while at it.

Read last week’s #innov8aid on another way to improve pregnancies and birth weight, by eating candy.

About the author

  • Che de los Reyes

    As a senior staff writer, Che focuses on international development breaking news coverage as well as interviews and features. Prior to joining Devex, Che handled communications for local and international development NGOs and government institutions in the Philippines.

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