Meet Bengaluru engineer Nitesh Jangir, who is helping to save premature babies

Bengaluru engineer Nitesh Kumar Jangir has been working tirelessly with Saans, a neonatal breathing device he invented that has saved countless premature babies’ lives in India. And now, due recognition has come his way.

Jangir’s neonatal artificial breathing device was awarded the 2019 Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Award.

Saans is a neonatal breathing device that helps premature babies breathe. Some premature babies need artificial respiration techniques because their lungs are underdeveloped at the time of birth.

Jangir said, “Babies suffering from RDS require continuous external support to breathe. As we talked more about the issue we thought about the situation in India and how lakhs of people in rural areas struggle due to the lack of such facilities.”

RDS is Respiratory Distress Syndrome, a common breathing problem especially prevalent in premature babies in India. Jangir invented Saans after rounds of in-depth research into RDS in collaboration with clinics and NGOs. Local healthcare providers in India also tested the device.

Saans functions like a manually operated air pump. The caregiver needs to continually press the pump that generates pressure and pushes air into the infant’s lungs, helping him/her breathe.

“We did a lot of ground research. Got the validation from the doctors and made sure that the device worked properly. As we are dealing with very sick and weak babies, we can’t take chances,” said Jangir to Better India.

Jangir was awarded in the People category with 14 other innovators from 53 Commonwealth countries. He received the award from HRH Prince Harry. Jangir was awarded with a certificate and £2,000, or close to Rs 2 lakh.

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The winners are chosen from categories based on the Sustainable Development Goals—boosting prosperity, promoting peace, and protecting the planet.

Jangir is currently based in Bengaluru and is the co-founder of Coeo Labs, an innovative medical device manufacturing company.

How will Jangir’s neonatal breathing device help?

Although artificial breathing machines, such as the Continuous Positive Airways Pressure (CPAP) device for premature babies, exist, they are expensive as well as static.

This means people from rural areas or on the outskirts of cities who cannot reach hospitals quickly are in danger of losing their babies, if born prematurely. The hospital would also need to have enough funding and good maintenance to store a device like the CPAP.

However, Jangir’s Saans is compact and portable, meaning it can be easily transported to regions in need of natal care.

“During transportation, infants are usually given oxygen therapy or ambu-bag support; these fail to provide adequate clinical care, accounting for innumerable deaths,” said Jangir to Better India. “We aim to change this scenario with Saans, which is the only infrastructure-independent CPAP that can provide short-term breathing support to neonates in any setting.”

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Jangir’s Saans is also much less expensive at Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000; traditional CPAP devices sell for Rs 50,000 and above.

Jangir explains, “We saved on the cost as we have not used any electronic functions. There is no fancy screen or electric requirement. It is a very simple device, designed mainly keeping rural areas in mind… We just wanted to make a device that was easy to transport in case of emergencies.”

RDS and premature babies: public health concern

RDS usually presents in babies born before 37 weeks.

Within minutes of being born, an infant can experience shortness of breath, unusual breathing movements, apnea, grunting, shallow breathing, and more. They then need treatment from specialised OB/GYN teams.

The National Health Portal of India says premature births are a “significant public health problem” because 15 million babies are born prematurely across the world and 60% of those births are in Africa and South Asia.

Even in India, of the 27 million births every year, 3.5 million are premature. Moreover, newborn deaths account for 40% of all deaths for children under the age of five. Preterm death is also the world’s leading cause for newborn deaths and 60% of them are in South Asia and Africa.

Hence, for low-income families and those who live in rural areas, away from healthcare facilities, Saans is a crucial device that can save lives.

Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius

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