The Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor works off-grid, where there’s no electricity to support a delivery. The Washington Post reports that some 500,000 women die annually in childbirth, often from causes that could be prevented with basic care. Getting an aid like this into the hands of midwives in the developing world can mean the difference in life and death, both for mothers and infants.

A fetal heart rate monitor operates by measuring the infant’s heart rate during birth. Should the child not get enough oxygen in the mother’s placenta, the infant heart rate slows down to lower the need for oxygen. This is considered by childbirth experts as a very reliable sign that the fetus is not managing the birth process well. Discovering the lowered heart rate during contractions gives medical workers a chance to suspend delivery (with drugs) and try to move the mother – or bring to her – more sophisticated medical assistance.

The Freeplay monitor is created expressly for the harsh conditions of rural and remote settings in the developing world. It is simple (it has only an on-off switch and a hand crank for generating its own electricity). It is built for robust operation and made to withstand knock-about conditions. Cranking its onboard power-supply charger for one minute provides a full 10 minutes of operation; two minutes creates 20 minutes of charge; and so on.

UNICEF, which places priority importance on maternal and neo-natal mortality, reports that a child is 500 times more likely to die in the first day of life than at one month of age in the developing world. Newborn mortality accounts for nearly 60 percent of infant deaths.

INDEX:Award recipient John Hutchinson, CTO of Freeplay Energy of Cape Town, credits medical associate Prof. John Wyatt of University College, London, as his “brother in arms” in creating the device.

John Hutchinson says: “A number of people came to us and said, ‘Why don’t you think of medical products because hospitals in Africa are littered with derelict Western-derived equipment. They require disposable or replaceable elements, and they’re just not right for the job.’”

In testing the Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor at Cape Town’s Elsies River Community Health Center, Hutchinson says, “The best example we have about its behavior is that the midwives we’ve given it to don’t want to give it back. We have a big fight, saying, ‘Excuse me, we need the product back to examine it,’ and the midwives say, ‘No, you can’t have it back. It’s too useful. It makes a big difference in our working day.”

How to spend 100.000 Euro on more design to improve life
John Hutchinson, says that his immediate priority is to make the monitor as widely available as possible. “Until now I have been unable to make significant numbers and this award now changes that. I can spend money on the production. ”Secondly his company has a sister product in the same theme, a pulse oximeter that measures oxygen saturation in the blood of children and with the prize they can now complete the tooling for that.
“In order to get these products into the low resource settings they were designed to we need to reduce the costs. I will spend the rest of the award on improving the existing design in order to lower manufacturing costs.”

Designed by
Philip Goodwin (industrial designer); Stefan Zwahlen (electronics designer); John Hutchinson; (project leader). Cape Town, South Africa.


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