California Group Working to Help Ukraine With Low-Cost Incubators 

A San Francisco area-based nonprofit is working to send easily operated, simply maintained and low-cost incubators to Ukraine. 

After learning that 260,000 women in Ukraine are pregnant, with many now giving birth in bomb shelters or without access to modern medical care, Embrace Global is working to send 3,000 of its incubators to war ravaged areas of the country.

Co-founder and CEO Jane Chen launched the initiative at the recent TED 2022 conference in Vancouver.  The company was already sending 200 incubators with UNICEF.

While traditional incubators require continuous electricity, these devices, which look like small sleeping bags, can be charged like a cellphone with electricity or a heater that works off hot water. The charge lasts up to eight hours.

“The core technology is a pouch of a waxlike substance called a phase change material,” Chen said. “And so this, once melted, can maintain the exact same temperature of 98 degrees, human body temperature, for up to eight hours at a stretch, and it can be reheated thousands of times.”

Far less expensive

Each device costs $300 to $400, substantially cheaper than the $20,000 cost of a basic traditional incubator, which also requires continuous electricity and trained personnel. The low-cost incubators require virtually no training and are designed to be very simple to use.

Chen developed the device while attending Stanford University and after then spending four years in India, where the devices have been distributed to 12 states.  She said the war in Ukraine was creating a new use for the incubators.

“This is a really ideal solution, actually, for a humanitarian crisis like this, because of the fact that the incubator is portable, and it works without stable electricity,” she said. “And on top of that, you don’t need a trained caregiver. The training for this is extremely simple. It was made to be very intuitive to you. So it can be used in those types of situations.”

This is the first time Chen and her organization have sent their incubators to Ukraine.

Besides India, the incubators are also being distributed through parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Afghanistan and Nepal.

Easy, accurate 

Dr. Geeta Arora, a New York City internist, said she loved the fact that the incubators can be used so easily in the developing world.

“My family comes from a very poor part of India,” Arora said. “And there’s nothing available. And most babies … you have to wrap them or strap them to another body to try to keep them warm. But with this, you know exactly what temperature the baby’s going to be.”

For Chen and Embrace Global, the challenge around the world is getting people on the ground to make sure the incubators are getting to the right places and people.  This was recently the case in Zambia.

A a nurse at a government facility “reached out to us and was just really passionate,” Chen said. “She was seeing the number of babies that were dying because of a lack of incubators.  And so we sent incubators to her. She, as the champion, really brought it to the attention of all of the hospital staff. And with that, we were able to expand it to other hospitals in the area.”

In a little over a decade, Chen estimated, Embrace Global’s incubator has already saved the lives of 350,000 babies around the world. Her organization’s goal is to save a million and then have the product available to everybody who needs it.

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