Friday, July 31, 2009

Thinking outside the box

MGH physician leads innovations in neonatal care overseas

RESUSCITATION TRAINING: Midwives in Indonesia are trained to use the Tekno-Tube to resuscitate newborns using a training doll.

Who would think a simple plastic tube and a set of car parts could help save the lives of newborns around the world? For Kristian Olson, MD, MPH, of the MGH Department of Medicine and the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) Global Health Initiative, this type of out-of-the-box thinking is nothing new. He has long made it his mission to enhance health care in developing countries around the world not only by offering compassionate, hands-on clinical care, but also by pioneering innovative, low-cost, sustainable technology and solutions.

As director of the CIMIT Global Health Initiative, Olson has led two overseas programs based on the development and promotion of novel life-saving medical devices -- a neonatal incubator made of car parts and a hand-held neonatal resuscitator comprising a plastic tube with a small mask fitted to one end.

"We realized early on in the process of addressing our goal to improve neonatal health care in rural areas that we needed to partner with local caregivers overseas," says Olson, who collaborated with midwives in Aceh, Indonesia, to promote the use of the plastic-tube resuscitator called the Tekno-Tube. Through regularly scheduled training programs, more than 500 midwives to date have begun using the inexpensive life-saving device that allows a midwife to safely blow into the mouth of a baby who has not started to breathe at birth.

"The Tekno-Tube is a device that has worked and saved lives mainly because it has been accepted and used by the midwives, who are the primary caregivers for pregnant women in Aceh," says Olson.

Olson also has led his team in the development of another neonatal device that has received much acclaim -- even leading to Olson's recognition on the Scientific American Top 10 Honor Roll, a distinction that recognizes individuals who have demonstrated leadership in applying new technologies and biomedical discoveries for the benefit of humanity. The car-parts neonatal incubator makes use of an automobile's headlights for heat, fan for circulation and temperature control, air filter system for cleaning the air and door alarm for signaling emergencies. The simply constructed and easily repairable incubator is now in the initial stages of development and should soon help in the care of premature babies around the world.

"We have been very pleased with how the Tekno-Tube and car-parts incubator have been received," says Olson. "We look forward to developing new partnerships around the world to develop other new and different life-saving medical devices."

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