HACKENSACK, N.J. — An experimental device that helps deliver babies during troubled labors was invented by an auto mechanic in South America.
It’s being developed as part of an effort to reduce stillbirths around the world.
The instrument is named the Odon Device in honor of its inventor, car mechanic Jorge Odon of Argentina, who got the idea when friends re-created a YouTube video showing how to extract a cork from a wine bottle. It is to be tested in Argentina and South Africa before wider distribution.
Birth is still a perilous event in the developing world. According to the World Health Organization, 2.6 million babies were stillborn globally in 2009, a number that has declined little since 1995, when there were 3 million stillbirths. Moreover, about 260,000 women died in childbirth last year.
The device being developed by Becton, Dickinson and Co. of Franklin Lakes, N.J., essentially consists of a polyethylene bag and a tube. The bag is inserted into the birth canal and inflated slightly to create a balloon that holds onto the baby’s head. That makes it easier to deliver the newborn, without the potential dangers that arise when a less-skilled practitioner uses forceps or vacuum suction. It’s also an alternative to cesarean sections, which are not readily available in poor countries.
“Developing countries just don’t have access to the type of interventions that women would receive in the U.S. or Western Europe,” said Gary Cohen, executive vice president at BD, a medical technology company that is a leading manufacturer of needles and syringes. Officials there estimate that if the tests go well, the device will be ready for use in about three years.
Odon got the idea in 2005 after seeing a plastic bag inserted into a wine bottle and inflated to get a cork out through the bottle’s narrow neck. He connected with officials at WHO, and the concept won a competition called “Saving Lives at Birth,” which is sponsored by USAID, the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other organizations.
Officials from WHO reached out to Becton Dickinson in January 2012 because of the company’s experience working with governments and non-profits to tackle health issues — especially HIV/AIDS — in the developing world, according to Cohen. The company doesn’t have any background in obstetrics, but it does have expertise in global distribution, as well as plastics molding, he said.
BD is working on the device under an exclusive licensing agreement with the inventor, as well as an agreement with WHO that calls for WHO to test the device.
BD said it plans to develop and manufacture the device in Singapore and distribute it globally, starting in areas where the maternal mortality rate is highest. BD will make a profit on the product, but plans to offer it at an affordable price in developing countries. Cohen said it’s too early to estimate prices for Odon.
“When a mother or newborn dies during childbirth, it has a devastating impact on families and communities,” BD’s chief executive officer Vincent Forlenza said in a recent statement. “We are honored to work with the WHO and the Saving Lives at Birth partners to bring this truly innovative new device to scale and make it broadly accessible in the countries where it is most needed.”
“If proven safe and effective, the Odon Device will be the first innovation in operative vaginal delivery since the development of forceps centuries ago and vacuum extractor decades ago,” WHO said.