Worldwide, the number of babies born preterm is on the rise. Currently, it is estimated that 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks of gestation each year, roughly 10% of all babies born. To raise awareness of the problem of preterm birth and the suffering of both the babies and the families involved, today, November 17, is the annual World Prematurity Day. This video gives you an idea of the scope of the problem:
It is well known that complications of premature birth is a course of serious health problems for the babies concerned and one of the primary causes of death in children up to five years of age. It goes without saying that it is also a cause of great concern for the parents and families involved.
Premature children in our part of the world are generally taken care of in a highly technological intensive care unit. To these not yet fully developed children, it is a source of stimuli that may not only disturb them, but also their normal development. To address this problem, the NIDCAP approach has been developed: Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program. The aim is to optimize the care in such a way that it fully supports the development of the preterm child, thus preventing adverse outcomes in the long run as much as possible.
A recent Dutch innovation fits neatly into this principle. The Bambi-Belt is an idea of Sidarto Bambang Oetomo, who is a pediatrician as well as a professor of Industrial Design at the Technical University of Eindhoven. He further developed it with his son Fabio. It aims at decreasing the burden of monitoring on a preterm child.
Ordinarily, monitoring involves electrodes being attached to the babies skin. Removing them is often pain- and stressful for the child. Furthermore, the child is limited in it’s movement and confined to the incubator, thus limiting the necessary parent-child (skin-to-skin) contact. The idea of the Bambi-Belt is to carry out the monitoring wireless, through soft electrodes in a small belt across the babies chest. Hopes are that this will improve both the quality of life of preterm babies and the parent-child bonding. You can watch a short preview of the concept here:
Testing on children with a normal birth weight is under way at Maxima Medical Centre, where dr. Bambang Oetomo works. The Bambi-Belt is now in the process of the first clinical pre-validations, and dr. Bambang Oetomo hopes to start a multicentre clinical trial next year.