Philips Wind-Up Fetal Doppler: solving problems, saving lives

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Dutch consumer products and lighting company Philips has agreed to commercialise a novel healthcare solution designed by a non-profit organisation in Cape Town that could help save the lives of countless babies in Africa and other developing markets.

Called the Philips Wind-Up Fetal Doppler, the device allows a midwife or medical practitioner to get a heart rate reading for a baby in utero (and during labour) without electricity, specialist skills or any specific consumables.

Philips-Wind-up-Fetal-DopplerDuring childbirth, being able to accurately measure a baby’s heart rate can mean the difference between life and death by alerting those assisting with the birth to any problems.

In areas with limited medical equipment this usually requires a midwife to try to manually measure the baby’s heart rate intermittently, something which can prove extremely difficult given that a baby’s heart can beat at anything between 150 and 200bpm and the environments in which childbirth happens may be loud and crowded.

While specialist equipment that can measure a baby’s heart rate is commonplace in the developed world, prohibitively high costs and dependence on electricity and specialist skills make it an impractical solution for places like outlying clinics in Africa or the subcontinent.

Developed by an organisation based in Cape Town called PET (PowerFree Education Technology), the Philips Wind-up Fetal Doppler has a battery that can be charged from a wall socket or by means of the wind-up mechanism on the rear of the device.

Instead of requiring the sort of gels used with prenatal scanning equipment the Philips Wind-up Fetal Doppler works with water and its single power button and LCD display make it extremely straight forward to operate.

Speaking to Stuff at the device’s launch event in Nairobi last week, Francois Bonnici, director of PET and director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation at the University of Cape Town, says despite the prototypes of the device having attracted a great deal of attention and been tested in 15 different countries, finding a company to commercialise the device and roll it out across Africa proved difficult.

“We needed a global partner, and after several years of looking for the right fit, Philips and its Africa Innovation Hub has met us with an alignment of purpose by providing the right kinds of devices to healthcare workers in these kinds of settings.”

Asked what the units are likely to cost, Bonnici says “the gold standard for these devices is between R5 000 and R20 000” but that this particular model currently costs around R3 000 to produce.

“We still think that’s far too expensive,” Bonnici says. “We think that a large company with its economies of scale can bring that price down further.” He says that’s one of the reason PET was so excited to get involved with Philips. “Part of our collaboration is for [Philips] to help us make it more affordable.”

From left to right: JJ van Dongen (CEO Philips Africa), Maarten van Herpen (Innovation Director Philips Africa) and François Bonnici (PET director)

From left to right: JJ van Dongen (CEO Philips Africa), Maarten van Herpen (Innovation Director Philips Africa) and François Bonnici (PET director)

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