Help the most vulnerable where the need is greatest. In 2016, 5.6 million children under the age of five died, 46% during the neonatal period, according to the World Health Organization. Worldwide, the highest concentration of under-five deaths — 48% of the total — occurred in Africa, where the mortality rate is 76.5 per 1,000 live births. Hospitals in developing regions are understaffed and lack the resources to measure newborns’ vital signs often enough to detect babies in distress from infections, birth asphyxia, and complications of prematurity. We have written about continuous neonatal heat monitoring technology and Philips’ work on technology for touchless video vital sign monitoring.

Chicago-based Neopenda, founded by former Columbia University biomedical engineering graduate students, is developing a low-cost, low-power wearable device to monitor newborns’ vital signs continuously. The company has partnered with Columbia University, Relevant Health, Ciklum, Cisco, Vodafone Americas Foundation, the Uganda Paediatric Association, and others. Designing a wearable suitable for use in low-resource regions requires re-engineering clinically validated technologies, according to the company founders. The multiparameter sensor array is held in place with a chest strap, and measures pulse rate, respiratory rate, peripheral blood oxygen saturation, and temperature. Rechargeable batteries power the device, which transmits biometric data wirelessly to a central monitor at a nurse’s station. The monitor alerts nurses when a baby is in trouble.

Neopenda is running ongoing trials of prototype devices in Uganda. Feedback from nurses and local health organizations shapes the Neopenda development process. The company hopes to launch the four-in-one device soon but has not announced a date.