Bempu Health: Saving Lives Simply, One Baby at a Time
By Sama Bég
This Indian start-up is committed to reduce infant mortality in low-resource settings. Their powerful, cost-effective innovations are already becoming a part of Indian state government schemes and UNICEF programs.
According to UNICEF, there are currently 2.2 billion children in the world. And almost 88 million – or about 4 % - will die before their 5th birthday. That’s about the entire population of Germany, and more than double the population of Canada. But what’s more staggering than these statistics is the fact that majority of those 88 million deaths are completely preventable.
There are people who read stats like those given above, add it to their general knowledge base, and then move on with their lives. And then there are those rare individuals who read such grave statistics and are pushed to do something about it. Ratul Narain, CEO and founder of Bempu Health, is someone who did exactly that. Narain, a Stanford alumnus, spent a year studying hospitals in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat with more than 100 pediatricians and neonatologists to learn about the most severe problems in newborn healthcare. Through his research, he realized that upto 15% of newborns discharged from government NICUs in India die at home due to complications such as infections and hypothermia. Narain learned that one in three babies in India are born with low birth weight which puts them at risk for a host of problems that often result in serious illness or death. His most shocking realization was the fact that majority of these complications could be solved by simple solutions that were unfortunately not available on the Indian market or were too expensive for the public health system. The outcome of his research and passion was Bempu Health.
Bempu is a healthcare-focused start-up company with a vision that all children should have the chance to live full and healthy lives. The company offers several innovative life-saving health products for children in low-resource areas. Their flagship product, the Bempu Hypothermia Bracelet, is a novel, continuous temperature-monitoring wearable that sounds an alert if a newborn is hypothermic. This simple alert is lifesaving as it notifies the caretaker to warm the baby with Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), a WHO-recommended practice for small babies, well before hypoxia, hypoglycemia, poor growth, or death can occur. Bempu bracelets are powered by a battery that runs for a month, the critical period for newborns. The Bempu KangaSling is a wearable device that lets a caretaker perform prolonged Kangaroo Care with ease. Their other innovations under development target neonatal apneas, home-based newborn care for at risk newborns, and tracking hours of Kangaroo Mother Care.
The Bempu team started off with Narain, a designer, and an engineer and is now a team of 40 and growing. It received its first grants from the Gates Foundation and the Canadian government in 2014. The target market for Bempu is families in rural parts of India and other developing worlds that cannot afford high quality care for their new born children. Bempu sells all of the aforementioned health technologies on the Indian private and public health markets. They also sell to international donor agencies such as UNICEF and are working on scaling in global markets outside of India. In 2018, 7 other Indian state governments proposed the Bempu Bracelet in their annual budget for health. The Bempu Health team is also exploring partnerships with World Vision, UNICEF, and several foundations to work together on successful implementation. Internationally, feasibility pilots on the bracelet are being done by UNICEF Papua New Guinea, UNICEF Benin, and UNICEF Zimbabwe and plans are underway to introduce the device, with the potential for scaling. They are also actively scaling their operations with the Bempu Hypothermia Bracelet and beginning sales of a Uterine Balloon Tamponade (UBT), a low-cost innovation for preventing post-partum haemorrhage. They are also validating two other newborn health products; the APNEBoot and CareCradle. Three more products have been funded and are currently under development.
One of the hallmarks of Bempu Health as an organization is its commitment to research and developing products that are evidence-based. Aside from several published studies, they currently have 5 different ongoing studies in Goa, Hyderabad, Delhi, Belgaum and Gujarat, in private, medical, government hospitals to assess the effect of the TempWatch on weight gain, KMC compliance, and weight loss in very low birthweight, low-birth weight, and low normal birth weight babies.
One such study conducted with the National Health Mission (NHM) Rajasthan, identified Bempu TempWatch as an intervention with the potential to address neonatal mortality through hypothermia prevention. Bempu Health, with the support of WISH Foundation, conducted a pilot intervention in several healthcare facilities in Udaipur and Dungarpur districts. The findings showed that the device was very useful for government and community settings, and that it was simple for the health care staff- ANMs, nurses, doctors and parents to use. During the pilot, several cases of infection were identified early by the bracelet, prompting parents to call ASHA workers, or visit healthcare facilities in time to save their babies. In the study, the control group had a 14% mortality rate, while the Bempu group had a 6% mortality rate, suggesting the power of the simple intervention. With these results, Rajasthan and seven other states have proposed Bempu in their state budgets and it received approval from ICMR and the MoHFW as a high potential innovation.
Since its launch in 2014, Bempu has expanded its reach to over 200 health centers in India and is now on the market in four African countries with plans to expand into other developing countries. The story of Bempu Health is a testament to the fact that often the most complex problems in life have the simplest of solutions.