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12th September 2018

BabySaver made in Wales could transform newborn care in Uganda

Hundreds of thousands of babies’ lives could be saved each year in developing countries thanks to a device manufactured in a North Wales Rehabilitation Engineering Unit.

The BabySaver, developed by Professor Andrew Weeks, a consultant obstetrician at Liverpool Women’s Hospital, is a simple plastic device that can be used to resuscitate babies without them having to be separated from their mothers. The prototypes have been made by a team Rehabilitation Engineering team in the Posture and Mobility Service at Bryn Y Neuadd Hospital in Llanfairfechan. The unit costs less than £40 to produce – a fraction of the price of traditional resuscitation units – and Prof Weeks is working with medics and researchers in Uganda so that it can be rolled out across the country.

The BabySaver, which contains equipment like a suction device and stethoscope, can be placed between a mother’s legs enabling the umbilical cord to remain intact whilst doctors treat her baby – which has important health benefits for the woman and her newborn child. Many UK hospitals use a similar, but more advanced version, also invented by Prof Weeks, called the LifeStart trolley, but these cost as much as $15,000. They also require electricity- something that is often unavailable for the thousands of babies that are born at home in rural areas in Uganda.

Prof Weeks, who also works at the University of Liverpool, said: “Each year approximately six million babies across the world require basic neonatal resuscitation and around 900,000 of these will die. The vast majority of deaths occur in low-income settings where there are few facilities for newborn resuscitation at birth. Where resuscitation does occur, it often happens away from the mother – or even in another room, which can be very distressing for the mother and baby. The BabySaver enables resuscitation to take place at the bedside, with the umbilical cord still attached. Allowing the cord to stay intact has huge health benefits for newborn babies but it also allows the midwife to stay with the mother at a high risk time for her.  Studies of bedside newborn resuscitation carried out in Liverpool have shown that it is preferred by mothers and staff. We truly believe it will be a game-changer for families across Uganda, and hopefully even further afield.”

Dr Chris Daniel, Head of Rehabilitation Engineering at Bryn Y Neuadd, said: “I’m proud of the part my team has played in the creation of the BabySaver and to be able to bring the vision of Andrew and his team to life.  This is a truly innovative piece of work and we can’t wait to see it in use.”

The product has been developed in conjunction with Peter Watt, a design engineer at the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust, after trials with staff and patients at the Mbale Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH) in Uganda.

Dr Kathy Burgoine, Head of the Neonatal Unit at MRRH, said: “The tray is literally a life-saver and will transform the way newborn resuscitation is carried out in our hospitals and the wider community.”

The project has been funded by Grand Challenges Canada, which funds innovative projects in low-income countries across the world, and the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, a grant-giving charity that supports innovative and pioneering social, medical and religious projects.

The BabySaver prototype was officially launched in Uganda in August, when it was handed over to the World Health Organisation’s Uganda representative Dr Olive Sentumbwe. It has the full backing of the country’s Ministry of Health. Further testing of the product will now take place to refine it further. The final version will be manufactured in Uganda and distributed throughout the country.