Improving maternal and child health: A car mechanic dreams up life-saving device

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If you’re in the field of Global Health, it’s likely that you’ve encountered the idea of Maternal and Child Health (MCH).  

In recent years, MCH has gained momentum, becoming the effort of a worldwide concerted campaign.

In particular, efforts to improve the state of MCH have largely been geared towards low and middle-income countries (LMICs), and rightfully so. Due to a variety of factors, LMICs have seen modest improvements in maternal deaths for most of the 20th century. While these statistics have improved in recent years, according to the World Health Organization, 830 women still die every day from causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. Around 99% of these maternal deaths occur in developing nations.

In fact, when comparing the state of MCH between the developed and undeveloped world, a grim picture emerges. In 2015, it was reported that the maternal mortality ratio in developing nations was almost 20 times worse than developed countries! Not only can these deaths be viewed as a burdensome tragedy, their weight is made heavier by the realization that most of them could have been prevented.

Research has long indicated that the premature deaths of women affect not only families, but they also have larger effects, destabilizing entire societies and economies. These facts all point to a need for solutions to maternal deaths in LMICs. While there has been a surge of initiatives geared towards doing just that, one recent solution stands out due to the unique circumstances of its inception.

In the depths of his sleep, Jorge Odón, a car mechanic living in Argentina, had a remarkable idea. Earlier, he had watched a video describing how to extract a cork from a wine bottle that had receded into the liquid and been lost. It was this video, coupled with an inventive spirit that remained active even in his unconsciousness, that eventually lead to the creation of the Odon device, an innovation designed to assist in obstructed births.  

An obstructed birth occurs when a baby cannot progress into the birth canal due to being physically blocked, even when a woman’s contractions are normal. The current use of forceps and suction devices to remedy obstructed births can cause internal bleeding and further complications to the baby’s head and spine.

Combatting this, and using a YouTube video as inspiration, Jorge Odón built his first prototype machine, a hand-sown fabric bag and sleeve, in his own kitchen. Eventually, with gradual improvements and a fruitful collaboration with an obstetrician, the device took the form of a lubricated plastic sleeve containing a plastic bag inserted around a baby’s head. When the bag is inflated and pulled, it grips the trapped child’s head, allowing the baby to successfully slide out.

Eventually, the Odon device gained not only the support of the international medical community, but also endorsement from the World Health Organization, subsequently being licensed by an American medical technology company. A pilot clinical study of the device, published in 2018, found that delivery using the Odon device is, in fact, feasible. While a randomized-controlled trial and further research is needed to determine its safety, it is evident that the device has a promising future.

In fact, clinicians have especially admitted its potential for aiding newborns and mothers in low-income, resource-poor areas, where medical facilities are often insufficient in dealing with complicated births.

Regardless of its future, the Odon device, birthed from a YouTube video and a dream, serves as a testament to the remarkable nature of human innovation and creativity.

Want to learn more about Maternal and Child Health?

Check out the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health (CanWaCH), which brings together over 100 Canadian organizations working to ensure that women and children around the world are able to survive and thrive, or HealthBridge, a non-profit that aims to improve the health of vulnerable populations, by applying innovative and sustainable practices to focus areas like reproductive, maternal, newborn & child health.

Interested in more exciting projects tackling maternal mortality?

CARE Canada is an international humanitarian organization that implemented the Tabora Maternal Newborn Health Initiative (TAMANI) project – aiming to improve both the quality of reproductive, maternal, newborn health services available, and women and girls’ access to health care in a remote, underserved part of Tanzania.


About the Author:

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Tanya Tewari is a graduate student in the Global Health field. Possessing a double degree in Biology and Psychology, she seeks comfort in navigating the fundamentals behind the biopsychosocial determinants of health. As a woman of colour and proud immigrant, she believes in intersectionality and advocating for populations marginalized in current health systems.

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