Jaundice is a common newborn pathology that is easily treated. But it can turn deadly when phototherapy—a simple and cost-effective light treatment that is the standard of care in the developing world—is unavailable. Worldwide, 60% of full term and 80% of preterm newborns experience jaundice. Phototherapy treatment, when available and properly administered, is amazingly effective.
But too many hospitals in low-resource settings have no phototherapy machine, or have ineffective machines requiring regular replacement parts that are often expensive and difficult to source. Facilities with a functioning machine frequently use it to treat multiple babies simultaneously, minimizing its effectiveness and increasing the risk of infection. If this sub-optimal treatment fails, the only intervention remaining is a blood transfusion, with the related risk to the infant of a damaging transfusion reaction, blood clots, infection, and shock.
Properly diagnosing and treating jaundice in newborns is a challenge faced by many hospitals in Myanmar. 2014 saw a welcome change at 36 hospitals in the country, as Thrive Networks coordinated the delivery of 52 intensive phototherapy machines specially designed, engineered, and manufactured for low-resource settings. The Firefly is the product of an innovative collaboration between Thrive Networks’ social enterprise partner, medical device manufacturer – MTTS – and industrial design firm Design that Matters.
Thrive Networks’ newborn health program not only delivers the machines but also ensures that they are maintained and used effectively. Training is provided for clinicians and nurses on topics like machine use; jaundice identification and management; and parent education. Warranties, technical support, and manuals in Burmese all contribute to ease of use and proper machine maintenance. These 52 newly-installed Firefly phototherapy machines are already treating over 500 newborns per month, greatly reducing the risk of permanent brain damage or death.
While the Firefly is vital to combating infant jaundice, it is just one of several appropriate technologies for newborns—including an infant warmer and CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machine – that MTTS has designed for use in under-resourced hospitals. CPAP treats respiratory distress, pneumonia, asphyxia, and other common respiratory pathologies. A standard technology in the developed world, CPAP scarcely existed in Vietnam when Thrive Networks piloted it at the National Hospital of Pediatrics (NHP) in Hanoi in 2003. A year later, due to the intervention, 24-hour infant mortality rates had dropped from 30% to 10% at the NHP. As of 2009, Thrive Networks had equipped 100% of Vietnam’s provinces with CPAP machines, and is on the way to do the same in Laos and Cambodia.
The MTTS Firefly is very easy to use and the most effective phototherapy we have. It has helped us avoid many Exchange Transfusions – the most severe cases that we couldn’t treat before. Now we can!
— Associate Professor Dr. Hla Myat Nwe, Head of SCBU, Yangon Children’s Hospital, Myanmar
A for-profit, social enterprise company, MTTS is the main partner of Thrive’s newborn health program. This breakthrough collaboration addresses infant mortality and morbidity through low-cost, custom-designed, innovative clinical solutions, and a support infrastructure of professional training and maintenance. Through Firefly, CPAP, and other complementary equipment, this partnership produces sustainable, well-functioning intensive care units for hospitals in low-resource settings to more effectively treat newborns with life-threatening health conditions.
The partnership has enabled the program to scale effectively and expand its scope geographically. Thrive’s newborn health program has worked in 14 countries. It has equipped over 350 hospitals with more than 3,000 machines, accompanied by critical training for the staff who use them. These devices now treat approximately 55,000 newborns each year, preventing the complications that accompany jaundice, respiratory distress, low birth weight, and prematurity, and allowing families to leave the hospital with what every parent wants – a healthy baby.
The partnership of Thrive Networks with MTTS merges the nonprofit world with the for-profit world to create the best world for all. As we continue building a family of social innovators, we’re committed to an ongoing exploration of promising ideas and breakthrough collaborations. The Firefly success story is a product of the type of cross-sector cooperation Thrive Networks is designed to foster, enabling various actors to share knowledge, best practices, and expertise to help solve the issue of infant mortality.
At the heart of our programs are strong partnerships with government, private sector, civil society groups, and local communities. We also implement learning and feedback strategies to strengthen our approaches to promoting gender and socially inclusive WASH practices in our partner communities.