Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel: She’s Saving Newborns

August 2 - On The Dot
FIRST THOUGHT: The World's Most Vulnerable Population

When Queen Elizabeth I didn’t marry, oh girl, the gossip ran amuck. There are plenty of solid reasons she wouldn’t. The queen’s family history involved several volatile marriages, and if she did marry, her husband would essentially be in charge, while she would be expected to get busy providing an heir. Not only would such a situation render her politically powerless, but childbirth in the 16th century was no joke. Childbearing women would craft their wills early in their pregnancies, and about 1 to 2 percent of women died in childbirth. Although pregnancy and the birthing process have become a lot safer since the Tudor days, we still have a long way to go to ensure women the world over have access to the proper health care and infant care required to keep both Mama and Baby safe and healthy.


Of course, Queen Elizabeth I had a great deal more resources compared with the citizens she ruled. Even today, wealth begets greater health. But here’s the thing: Knowledge is power, and when it comes to creating new life in this world, that knowledge should be attainable to everyone, regardless of socio-economic status, as it can truly save lives. According to the World Health Organization, there are almost 3 million newborn deaths every year, but nearly two-thirds of those deaths can actually be prevented if known, effective health measures are provided at birth and during the first week of life. Those with the highest neonatal death rates tend to be low-or middle-income countries, where, because of the costs associated, life-saving measures have simply not been explored enough.

WOMEN TO WATCH: Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel, Co-founders of Neopenda

Some of my favorite Women to Watch are those who are innovating for the greater good. After all, if we want to create a better world for ourselves, our families and the future, we ladies have to help each other, right? Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel took that sentiment to heart when they co-founded Neopenda, a global health-tech startup striving to engineer health-care solutions that give newborns in low-resource settings a fighting chance at the healthy lives they deserve.

Yep, that’s a pretty ambitious goal. But if anyone can realize it, it’s these smarties. Both Sona and Teresa are educated in biomedical engineering and are employing their expertise to potentially save millions of newborn lives. Founded in 2015, the company’s first life-saving product is a low-cost, low-power wearable device for newborns—basically a sensor rigged inside a snuggly baby hat—that continuously monitors newborns’ key vital signs.

When Sona and Teresa visited neonatal hospital wings in developing countries like Uganda, they learned a nurse can be responsible for 20 to 30 critically ill babies at one time, meaning babies in distress often go unnoticed to overworked nurses. But the Neopenda device helps solve that problem.

The company’s baby-hat monitor measures temperature, heart and respiratory rates, and blood-oxygen saturation. These stats are wirelessly transmitted to a central monitor, which alerts nurses when a newborn is in distress, making it much easier for nurses to check up on numerous babies at once.

Once this brilliant innovation is produced at scale, Sona and Teresa estimate it will cost only about $1 per device. Just $1 will be able to save a baby’s life. Isn’t that amazing? Sona and Teresa partnered with a Ugandan hospital to implement these prototypes, receive feedback and make adjustments accordingly.

Make no mistake about it, Sona and Teresa are blazing a path to the future, a bright future in which vulnerable newborns throughout the world are given remarkably better chances to survive and thrive. We can’t think of a more worthy aspiration than that!


Sona Shah and Teresa Cauvel would no doubt agree with this touching anonymous quote:

“The littlest feet make the biggest footprints in our hearts.”

This is Melinda Garvey signing off until next time. Remember, ladies, empowered women empower other women. Share On the Dot so more women can have a voice. Thanks for getting ready with us.

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