November 15, 2013 — Physicians say a device invented by an Argentine auto mechanic has "enormous potential" to ensure safer deliveries in cases of obstructed labor, the New York Times reports.
Obstructed labor, which can occur when the fetus' head is too big or when the woman's contractions cease from exhaustion, is a major contributor to the roughly 5.6 million infants who are stillborn or quickly die and the 260,000 women who die in childbirth worldwide annually.
The device involves a plastic bag that is slipped through a lubricated sleeve and placed around the infant's head. The birth attendant then inflates the bag to grip the head and pulls the bag through the sleeve until the head emerges from the birth canal.
Becton, Dickinson and Company, a medical technology company in New Jersey, has licensed the device for production. BD has not yet said what it plans to charge for the device, but Executive Vice President for Global Health Gary Cohen said it should cost less than $50 to make.
The device also has the endorsement of the World Health Organization and major donors, including research grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development and Grand Challenges Canada. It is called the Odón Device, after its inventor, Jorge Odón, who built the first prototype using a glass jar as a womb, his daughter's doll, and a fabric bag and sleeve sewn by his wife.
Doctors said the device could save lives in countries with few resources, while possibly reducing the rate of caesarean sections in wealthier countries.
"This critical moment of life is one in which there's been very little advancement for years," said Mario Merialdi, WHO's chief coordinator for improving maternal and perinatal health.
The device has been safety tested on a small group of 30 Argentine women who had normal hospital labors and had given birth before. Doctors said it also appears to be safe for midwives with minimal training to use. WHO currently plans to oversee tests on 100 additional women in normal labor in China, India and South Africa, along with 170 women in obstructed labor.
Cohen said that while the company expects to profit on the sales, it will likely charge poorer countries less for the device (McNeil, New York Times, 11/13).