Premature babies can now be supported in Ukraine with new oxygen machines that work without electricity. The development of the devices was financed by Unitaid, a Geneva based global health aid agency which is committed to supplying poorer countries with medicines and other health products. The devices are currently being manufactured in Kenya.
“Global health agency Unitaid through its partner Vayu Global Health, has provided 220 bubble nasal continuous positive airway pressure (bCPAP) devices and 125 oxygen blender systems to supply infants with the breathing support and oxygen therapy that they need », said Hervé Verhoosel, Unitaid’s spokesperson today at a press briefing at the United Nations in Geneva..
Bubble CPAP is a non-invasive way of ventilating newborns who are struggling to breathe. Oxygen blenders prevent eye, lung, and brain damage while giving babies pure oxygen.
The conflict in Ukraine has seen many hospitals damaged or destroyed, and supply chains have been disrupted. This puts thousands of newborns at high-risk of disability or death from a lack of access to oxygen, necessary equipment, and essential treatment.
“The war increases levels of stress in pregnant women which leads to an increase in the number of premature births reported, up to three times more than before the war, depending on the hospital that we are talking with », said Hervé Verhoosel, Unitaid’s spokesperson. “Babies born prematurely are more likely to develop respiratory, neurological and digestive complications, conditions that often require oxygen for treatment.”
The devices are now available in 25 facilities across Ukraine, of which 17 are perinatal centers. Unitaid has provided funding to support Vayu’s bCPAP system through engineering, manufacture and approval by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The products are manufactured at the cost of 500,- USD each.
“The novel ultra low-cost, portable, electricity-free device, which was granted FDA Emergency Use Authorization to help in the fight against COVID-19 allows for precious delivery of oxygen concentration, flow and pressure that can dramatically improve the outcomes of newborns and infants », said Herve Verhoosel. « These devices can be used worldwide but are particularly well-suited to use in humanitarian crises or low-resource settings.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has verified more than 400 attacks on hospitals in Ukraine since the beginning of the war in February.
“Every time there is an attack one of the things that happens, is the electricity doesn’t work », said Margaret Harris, Spokesperson for the World Health Organisation (WHO). “I went to a pediatric hospital in Zaporizhia which is, as you know, is very much close to the active fighting line, and they actually sleep every night in the basement, and the kids that they have got on ventilation etc., they have to move, or they try to move. So having very portable devices that can function offline is absolutely critical.”
The bCPAP system is in use in several African countries as well as Belgium and the United States.
Unitaid recalls today that additional funding will be critical to scale up the manufacture and supply of these lifesaving machines more widely.