India's babies get 'bullet-proof' incubators

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Story highlights

  • Incubators developed by Wipro and GE will reach even the most remote Indian hospitals
  • New units are part of a battle to curb one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world
  • The high-tech machine is fitted with bullet-proof material and is able to handle unpredictable electrical surges

'The Silk Road: Past, Present, Future' travels east to west along this ancient trade route, exploring how traditional culture, arts, and trade have developed in the 21st century. This month we explore India.

(CNN)Life as a premature baby is precarious -- especially if you're in rural India.

There are some 750,000 neonatal deaths each year in India, and one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.
Access to incubators is minimal outside cities; neonatal technology is expensive, particularly for local medical facilities.
    But this could soon become a thing of the past.
    A joint venture between Wipro and General Electric has developed a stronger, safer, more efficient incubator for the Indian market, and their concept is quite literally bullet-proof. The high-tech machine is fitted with bullet-proof material and is able to handle unpredictable electrical surges.
    Called the Lullaby Warmer Prime, the incubator is designed to work in areas with poor infrastructure. In addition to the modified power unit to handle electrical surges, a temperature gauge fitted with Kevlar and the light bulbs have been upgraded with long-lasting LEDs -- and they're more durable too.
    What's more, each unit, manufactured in Bangalore, comes in at 30% cheaper than it would in the U.S.

    Fighting an unwanted statistic

    Warmth is key to the survival of premature babies and many rural mothers are forced to make do with what they have to keep their child alive. Doctor Sahana Devadas, a paediatrician at Bangalore's biggest children's hospital, says mothers often improvise, covering their baby and placing it "under a [light] bulb" to maintain body temperature.
    Now however, the hope is that the cheaper, more robust incubators developed by Wipro and GE will reach even the most remote hospitals and curb the high infant mortality rate.

    A uniquely Indian approach

    Based in Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, the project team describe their approach as "reverse innovation."
    Taking existing technologies, they refined, economized and developed a version of incubators prevalent in Europe and the U.S., all at a fraction of the cost.
    Not that performance is compromised. Dr Devadas claims infant mortality has halved in his hospital since the introduction of the new units.
    The long-term goal is for the incubators to be shipped around the world, lowering the cost of neonatal care globally whilst increasing the ubiquity of -- and thus access to -- these lifesaving devices.
    Good news for any soon-to-be parent.