During his childhood, Ratul Narain got a chance to visit many developing countries in the world, and the outcome of these visits was something transformative. He encountered many problems dogging third-world nations, and he realised that healthcare was the most pressing one.
This is when it dawned upon him that socially-relevant healthcare tech companies are the need of the hour, and that these could make a difference in the ailing healthcare industry in under-developed and developing nations.
“My mission is to radically improve health outcomes in resource-poor areas of the world through appropriately designed technologies,” he told e27.
So after working for several years in the US, the Stanford alumnus came back to his home country India and spent a year in this space. Narain interviewed many healthcare specialists and doctors around the country to learn more about the gaps in newborn health — a critical issue faced by the country.
“From my interviews with over 100 neonatologists and paediatricians, and umpteen visits to various kinds of clinical settings across India, I got some insights into some of the major gaps in newborn healthcare in India. From my conversations and observations, I created a list of gaps where I could build possible solutions. At the top of this list — and at the top of doctors’ list of priorities — were missing cases of hypothermia,” Narain added as he narrated his entrepreneurial journey.
He, however, realised that hypothermia (which occurs when the body’s core temperature falls below 36.5º C) can be easily prevented and cured; all it takes are regular temperature monitoring and Kangaroo Care. But at understaffed hospitals and homes where parents are uninformed or uneducated about the need, this doesn’t always happen.
“This is when I thought of creating a device that could potentially save thousands of premature babies from deaths. When you impact a baby’s life, you actually impact the next 60 to 80 years of its life,” Narain said.
That was beginning of his social entrepreneurship journey. He developed Bempu, a single-use device meant to be worn like a wristwatch by a neonate during the critical neonatal period of development.
“It detects hypothermia and alarms when the baby becomes hypothermic. When the baby returns to normal temperature, the bracelet stops alarming. It does not require charging and is completely safe to be worn by the baby,” he said, explaining the device’s working mechanism.
According to Narain, this device has been designed with the user — a baby within the first four weeks of life — in mind. It is safe for the baby to use and is made of entirely hypoallergenic materials. And it does not emit heat or radiation, he added.
“A doctor or parent will get to know the state of a baby’s temperature when looking at the device. If the baby is normothermic, the device flashes a blue light every 10 seconds. If the baby’s temperature drops beneath 36.5 C (97.7 F), the device sets off an audiovisual alarm — an orange/red light and plays a tune. This alarm signals to doctors or caregivers that warming actions need to be taken. When the alarm is set off, caregivers are taught to give the baby proper Kangaroo Care — or skin-to-skin contact — and proper swaddling,” Narain explained.
Priced at INR2,000 (under US$30), Bempu has been available in India since January 2016. The device is currently sold to private hospitals and also used in government facilities. It does not mandate a prescription and is designed to be used at home.
Narain is ambitious that he wants to see the Bempu device on the wrist of babies in government facilities and extremely under-resourced areas.
Although its focus has been India because of its highest number of deaths due to prematurity in the world, the startup is also interested in having a presence in other countries around the world.
“Globally, there are 15 million babies that are born premature, and 2.7 million babies die within their first month of life. Babies born premature are at increased risk of hypothermia, infection, and long-term health problems,” Narain told e27.
“Death from prematurity, and its associated complications, is the leading cause of death for children under five years around the world, and India specifically has the highest number of deaths due to prematurity. Preventing hypothermia can prevent up to 48 per cent of these deaths — there is a great deal of potential for impact with the device,” he added.
As it grows, Bempu is working on expanding its product portfolio to include more life-saving technologies for infants and children in under-resourced areas.
Bempu has been awarded a number of grants from various organisations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Saving Lives at Birth (a partnership between USAID, UKAID, the Korean Government, the Canadian Government, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and Grand Challenges Canada.