First aid

18 November 2013

New kit to help babies breathe wins GSK award

A simple low-cost device that helps newborn babies to breathe and has the potential to transform the life chances for thousands of African babies has won a significant GlaxoSmithKline award.


A simple low-cost device that helps newborn babies to breathe and has the potential to transform the life chances for thousands of African babies has been awarded the highest fund in the first GSK ( and Save the Children $1million Healthcare Innovation Award.

Keeping airways open

The life-saving kit, called a ‘bubble’ Continuous Positive Airway Pressure, or ‘bCPAP’, is used to help babies in respiratory distress, which is often caused by acute respiratory infections like pneumonia. CPAP devices use air pressure to keep patients' airways open, and as there are few wall-mounted air supplies in Malawi hospitals, the newly innovated bCPAP air pump works on its own.  Plus it is made of durable materials that are inexpensive and easy to repair.  A similar version is already commonly used in developed countries where they cost at least $6000 each. This innovative low-cost ‘bubble’ CPAP adaptation can be produced for approximately $400.

The organisation behind the innovation and recipients of a $400 000 share of the $1 million award is Friends of Sick Children, Malawi – a partnership between the paediatric department of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies in the United States and the University of Malawi College of Medicine. The funding from the Healthcare Innovation Award, along with backing from the Ministry of Health in Malawi, will mean use of the device can be replicated and expanded to Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa.

Newborn mortality rates a challenge

A judging panel of experts from the fields of public health and development,  co-chaired by Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK, and Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive of Save the Children,  were impressed with the bCPAP device’s impact on tackling newborn deaths, and the associated comprehensive training and education programme on premature child-care.  Newborn mortality rates continue to be a challenge in the developing world and in 2012, three million babies died in their first 28 days of life. 

The bCPAP device was one of five projects, from a long list of nearly 100 applications from 29 countries across the developing world, selected by the judging panel.

Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK, said: “Through this initiative, we have seen a wealth of creativity and innovation to better serve children’s health needs in developing countries. I want to pay tribute to the ingenuity of all the organisations who applied for the award. 

“These remarkable projects show that significant numbers of lives can be saved and improved through grass-roots innovation. We hope our awards will help ‘spread the word’ on many of these innovations and encourage others to use and learn from them.”

Solutions to own challenges

Justin Forsyth, Chief Executive Save the Children, said: “Despite huge progress being made in under-five mortality in the past ten years, there hasn’t been the same progress made in the number of newborn babies dying in poor countries in the first 28 days of life. This is an area that needs urgent attention, so it is heartening that all five winning innovations from this award concentrate on the area of newborn care.  It is also inspiring to see countries finding solutions to their own challenges and partnering with other countries in the developing world to replicate and champion new innovations.”

The Friends of Sick Children, Malawi and the bCPAP team said:  “We are delighted to be the recipients of the first GSK-Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award. The award money will help us to replicate and begin scaling up our programme across Africa and will make sure that we are reaching and saving even more children’s lives. To be recognised for the work that we do and to hopefully inspire others around the world is an honour.”

The partnership between GSK and Save the Children aims to deliver a new model for corporate-charity working to help save the lives of a million children.


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