Every year, approximately 358,000 women around the world die in childbirth. Poised to change that tragic statistic is a low-tech, low-cost instrument, the “Odon Device,” that has journeyed from its invention in Argentina and its successful testing at DMU in 2008 to high praise this May by Margaret Chan, M.D., director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO ).
“She explicitly mentioned the Odon Device as an example of innovation WHO should invest in,” says Mario Merialdi, M.D., Ph.D., coordinator of maternal and perinatal health in WHO ’s Department of Reproductive Health and Research in Geneva, Switzerland.
Invented by Argentinian Jorge Ernesto Odon, the Odon Device is a folded sleeve with a plastic bag designed to fit over a baby’s head in the birth canal, creating an air clamp to facilitate delivery timed with the mother’s contractions. Inexpensive and disposable, the device doesn’t require medical expertise to use, which makes it ideal for developing countries with limited numbers of health care professionals.
The device came to be tested at DMU after Merialdi visited campus to speak at the University’s second annual global health conference. Soon after that, he traveled to Argentina to meet with Odon and a group of physicians; that inspired his request to test the device in DMU’s simulation laboratory. University leaders promptly agreed.
Since that 2008 test, the device has been improved and presented at numerous international conferences, including the Birth World Conference in Chicago last September and the 10th World Congress of Maternal and Neonatal Health in Rome in December. The device won first prize at INNOVAR 2011, an annual competition for technological innovation. It also was one of 19 ideas selected in July 2011 to receive funding at the global call for innovations, “Saving Lives at Birth: a Grand Challenge for Development,” issued by USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the government of Norway, Grand Challenges Canada and the World Bank.
With that $250,000 seed grant, the Odon Device moves into further testing, improvement and use. Merialdi says it soon will be available at WHO centers in Hong Kong, East London, Geneva and Monte Carlo. This spring, he, Odon and their colleagues presented the device to the staff of USAID in Washington and at a meeting on medical devices at WHO in Geneva.
“Ninety-nine percent of maternal deaths occur among the poorest populations in the world. Yet many of these deaths could be prevented with basic medical methods,” says Yogesh Shah, M.D., DMU’s associate dean of global health. “The Odon Device could make this critical difference. Des Moines University is proud it was tested here, and we’ll continue to applaud its development and distribution.”