INSPIRED IMPACT :: Sona Shah | Neopenda
INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to purpose-driven organizations and passionate leaders and entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their communities and industries.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
Neopenda is a social enterprise startup company in the global health space. We work to create affordable and sustainable healthcare solutions to combat newborn mortality in the developing world. We believe that all communities deserve cutting edge health technology, especially in low-income countries where the strain on resources and challenges accessing quality healthcare puts vulnerable patients at risk. Our first product is a low cost wearable vital signs monitor for critically ill babies in low resource hospitals where standard monitoring equipment is too expensive and not appropriately designed. Our wireless, rechargeable device continuously measures four crucial vital signs, and alerts nurses immediately when a patient is in distress. The system helps over-burdened healthcare workers better manage and provide high quality care to their patients. It improves speed of action in life-threatening situations for small and sick newborns, and ensures that when they are in distress, they have the best chance to receive the care they need to survive and thrive.
WHY DO YOU DO IT?
Our mission is to help give newborns in sub-Saharan Africa a healthy start to life. As a technology company, we strive to engineer healthcare solutions to these urgent challenges, by focusing on the users and patients and working with the local community to build useful and sustainable products. Our vision for our newborn vital signs monitoring product is to enable more responsive and appropriate medical care of newborn infants in resource-constrained hospital facilities. We want to give voice to the 46 million newborns in need of advanced care in the developing world every year, and help nurses and doctors stop preventable deaths. Neopenda was started by co-founders Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel, as graduate students in biomedical engineering at Columbia University. We are passionate about innovating high-impact technologies that address important global healthcare challenges and save lives.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Our solution has the potential to improve care for 45 million newborns in the developing world per year, and 75 million children with expansion to pediatrics. By continuously monitoring vital signs in sick newborns who are otherwise not being monitored, Neopenda makes nursing more efficient, enabling higher quality care. With real time alerting and historical trend tracking, healthcare workers are better equipped to care for their patients, saving newborn lives in emergencies, improving outcomes, and giving parents peace of mind. Our theory of change includes several steps to measure impact. In the short term, in our pilot studies we are tracking outputs such as number of newborns monitored and hours of monitoring logged, and looking at improved care for newborns through intermediate outcomes such as how often a nurse responds to aberrant vital signs, how often she adjusts treatment, and how a nurse’s workload is reduced by saving time manually measuring vital signs. In the long term, we will be looking at how implementation of our device improves newborn mortality and morbidity rates.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
We are most inspired by the incredible nurses and doctors we have had the honor to spend time with in Uganda, who work tirelessly despite understaffing, limited resources, and poor compensation, trying to save as many lives as possible every day. Over three trips to Uganda we have visited 27 hospitals and healthcare facilities all across the country to survey the needs, learn directly from the challenges health workers face, and collect feedback and input on our product design from more than 125 nurses and doctors. Their determination and compassion in the face of often frustrating and dismaying circumstances inspires us in our work. We want to give them better tools, so that the healthcare situation can continue to improve in Uganda – and similar settings around the world. And of course, the babies themselves are a huge source of inspiration to us. Spending so much time in resource-limited hospitals, we have seen time and time again how babies can suffer when the unit has run out of oxygen, or the one pulse oximeter in the ward is broken, or the nurse simply doesn’t have time to check on him for six hours. It is heartbreaking how simply being born in Hoima, Uganda, instead of Chicago, Illinois, means that a baby has a nine times worse chance of surviving her first month of life. Witnessing these realities and spending time with the providers on the ground doing everything they can to help inspired us to do everything we can help as well.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
We want to help end preventable newborn deaths worldwide. According to a 2017 UNICEF report, 2.7 million newborns die each year in their first 28 days- 7,300 newborns every day. Sadly, 98% of newborn deaths occur in the developing world. And, crucially, 75% of newborn deaths can be prevented with high quality care. The top causes are (1) prematurity, (2) complications during birth, (3) infections. Eradicating preventable newborn mortality may sound like a lofty ambition, but it is possible with commitment to collaboration, innovation, and investment. In fact, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal number 3 strives to end preventable deaths of newborns and children under 5 years of age by 2030, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to at least as low as 12 per 1,000 live births and under-5 mortality to at least as low as 25 per 1,000 live births. Neopenda hopes to be part of the solution to this urgent global challenge.
WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
We are currently in the phase of validating and iterating on our product. This entails clinical pilot studies focusing on evaluating the accuracy, feasibility, and impact of the device. We require funding to conduct these important studies, for product development work to improve and finalize the device, and for regulatory approval processes. We are currently raising a $1M seed round to provide this 18 month runway. We also are seeking connections to manufacturers and advice on distribution of medical products to sub-Saharan Africa, as we work towards commercializing and scaling our solution.
WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
Regulatory hurdles pose a significant challenge for our work. There is a unique combination of challenging factors involved in our work: we are developing a novel medical device, for newborns- a vulnerable patient population, and in low resource settings where testing and evaluating new technologies is a newer and unfamiliar process. This also says to us that there is a lot of opportunity in the space Neopenda is tackling, and that what we are doing is needed: newborns are an underserved and forgotten population. The challenges are addressable, though often more time consuming than we hope. By following international medical device safety standards, and citing the precedence of decades of clinical use of pulse oximetry technology, our product is well positioned to move forward in the regulatory pathways. We have benefited greatly from the guidance of our experienced advisors and mentors as we navigate these challenges.
WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
We encourage others interested in pursuing impactful projects in the global health space to be tenacious and persistent. These complicated problems have not been solved yet because they are not easy to solve, and we’ve learned a lot about how to keep pushing forward when we meet resistance and to adapt and readjust when we hit barriers. Furthermore, it is essential to collaborate- learn from the successes and failures of other leaders and organizations, and work closely with local partners and stakeholders in the community to build something together that is set up for success- both impact and sustainability.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
People interested in supporting Neopenda can reach out to us at email@example.com, or on our website. We love to hear ideas, questions, and possible collaborations. We are also currently raising a $1M seed round and anyone interested in learning more or contributing financially to our work in the fight to save newborn lives should contact us. Thank you!
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