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The £12 gadget which could save the lives of tens of thousands of mothers and babies

The world’s first medical device to detect shock and high blood pressure in pregnant women could cut maternal deaths in developing countries by up to 25%, saving more than 70,000 lives a year.

The Microlife VSA will prevent deaths by detecting the signs early. We’re confident that by using the device, we can cut maternal mortality by at least 25%.
Professor Andrew Shennan, consultant obstetrician at Guy’s and Thomas’ and Professor of Obstetrics at King’s College London

Researchers from Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London have developed the Microlife Vital Signs Alert (VSA) with a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project was also awarded the Newton Prize worth £200,000 at an event in New Delhi today in November.

The hand-held device measures blood pressure and pulse to calculate the impending risk of shock. It is designed for use in developing countries, where 99% of all worldwide maternal deaths occur.

High blood pressure in pregnancy can indicate pre-eclampsia, a potentially deadly condition for both mother and baby.

Professor Andrew Shennan, Consultant Obstetrician at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and Professor of Obstetrics at King’s College London, said: ‘In many developing countries, medical expertise is limited so people simply do not recognise the signs of danger until it is too late. The Microlife VSA will prevent deaths by detecting the signs early. We’re confident that by using the device, we can cut maternal mortality by at least 25 per cent.’

The accurate device is the first such device to achieve World Health Organisation standards for use in under-resourced settings. It requires minimal training and has a traffic light system that clearly indicates risk. The device costs less than £12 and the lithium battery can easily be charged with USB phone chargers to last for over 200 uses.

The Microlife VSA was initially trialled in Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia. It is now in use in seven countries in Africa and Asia in maternity, intensive care and community settings. Further trials are taking place in South Africa, Mozambique, Pakistan, Haiti India and Nigeria. More than 5,000 devices have been ordered from a dozen organisations including the UK Military of Defence. One company plans to use the device in Kenya, Bangladesh, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Ghana.

Professor Andrew Shennan’s research has since been nominated for this year’s PLuS Alliance Prize, due to be announced at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, in September.

The PLuS Alliance Prize awards $50,000 USD to globally-significant innovation in research and education which makes a direct and positive impact on communities. Find out more about the PLuS Alliance on its website.

The device was named in the ‘top 30’ Innovation Countdown 2030 by the United Nations, a list that identifies and showcases high-impact technology that could solve the world’s most urgent health issues. The Science Museum has also requested a device to display in its exhibition.

 To read further about the issue of maternal deaths in developing countries, see  here.