HOUSTON, Texas. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — In countries with very few resources it is often the youngest ones who suffer the most and nowhere is that more evident than the neonatal unit in Malawi, Africa where nearly 20 percent of babies are born prematurely. It is the highest rate of anywhere in the world. Caring for these infants requires the development of low-cost, life-saving technologies and that’s what professors and students from Rice University’s engineering department have been working on. Here’s one undergrad who came up with a unique solution for breastfeeding mothers.
Leah Sherman, a bioengineering student at Rice University told Ivanhoe, “Women in Malawi currently don’t have access to breast pumps. Right now their only way to express breast milk if their infant is too weak to suckle is by hand expression.”
It’s a problem Sherman has been working on for almost a year, and it comes with its own set of challenges.
“Especially when you consider the fact that if anything broke you’d have to ship in new parts to fix it, and that electricity isn’t always reliable there. So if the electricity went out, then you would be stuck without a breast pump,” said Sherman.
Sherman demonstrated her invention to healthcare workers in Malawi; showing that her design can turn any ordinary chair into a rocking chair that can power her breast pump.
“I’m just very excited about the fact that I’m working on something that can have a real impact on the state of healthcare in the developing world,” Sherman expressed.
Sherman received some feedback about possible contamination in the tubes if multiple women use the pump so she’ll have to improve on the design before it is ready for use.
A typical electric breast pump that can be shared in a U.S. hospital can cost more than $1,600. Sherman said she is designing her pump to cost no more than $400.
Contributors to this news report include: Jessica Sanchez, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; Rusty Reed, Videographer.