To assist frontline health workers identify underweight neonates and monitor their growth, we are developing a smartphone-based technology that provides accurate, timely, geo-tagged and tamper-proof weight estimation.
The first 28 days of an infant’s life, the neonatal period, is a time of rapid development and change. It is an extremely vulnerable time, with the highest risks of developing post-birth complications, congenital conditions and infant mortality. Globally, 2.4 million children died in the first month of life in 2019 – approximately 6,700 neonatal deaths every day. Research suggests that many of these deaths are preventable if the baby’s weight can be determined in the first week after birth – an enormous problem in countries such as India where a significant number of births still take place at home, with no trained midwife or medical professional in attendance.
According to UNICEF, about 20 million low birthweight (LBW) babies (those with a birth weight under 2.5 kg) are born worldwide each year, most of them in developing countries. For LBW babies, the neonatal mortality rate is 20 times higher and they are at increased lifelong risk of disease and poor health.
Despite persistent global efforts, birthweight data was not available for nearly one third of all newborns in 2015 globally, putting vulnerable LBW babies at risk of not receiving appropriate care. In many parts of the world, vital measurements like weight are not consistently and accurately captured due to issues in supply, maintenance and performance of weighing equipment – in India spring balances are commonly used; cultural taboos that don’t allow outsiders to touch newborns; erroneous manual entries and data tampering. Additionally, it is evident that many expectant mothers in developing countries still deliver at home without the assistance of skilled birth attendants and without the facilities to assess the health status of the newborn.
Furthermore, there is a lack of reliable, consistent monitoring of newborns identified as low birthweight, resulting in delayed interventions and care, which adversely affect health outcomes and survival.