Friday, November 15, 2013

You never know where a good idea will come from

Today I was fascinated to find out about Jorge Odón, an Argentinian car mechanic who came up with a new way for birth attendants to address the problem of obstructed labor, which is a major cause of death of both newborns and their mothers throughout the world. 

The germ of the idea was given to him by a YouTube video that showed how to use a plastic bag to get a cork out of a wine bottle. Then in the wee hours of the morning, he realized that the same principles involved could be used to help with childbirth; he told his wife, and she dismissed it as craziness and went back to sleep. But he was a tinkerer and didn't give up on his idea. Now it's been enthusiastically welcomed by the World Health Organization and has just been licensed for production by an American company. Here's an excerpt from The New York Times article about Sr. Odón's invention:

With the Odón Device, an attendant slips a plastic bag inside a lubricated plastic sleeve around the head, inflates it to grip the head and pulls the bag until the baby emerges.
Doctors say it has enormous potential to save babies in poor countries, and perhaps to reduce cesarean section births in rich ones.
“This is very exciting,” said Dr. Mario Merialdi, the W.H.O.’s chief coordinator for improving maternal and perinatal health and an early champion of the Odón Device. “This critical moment of life is one in which there’s been very little advancement for years.”
About 10 percent of the 137 million births worldwide each year have potentially serious complications, Dr. Merialdi said. About 5.6 million babies are stillborn or die quickly, and about 260,000 women die in childbirth. Obstructed labor, which can occur when a baby’s head is too large or an exhausted mother’s contractions stop, is a major factor.
In wealthy countries, fetal distress results in a rush to the operating room. In poor, rural clinics, Dr. Merialdi said, “if the baby doesn’t come out, the woman is on her own.”

A car mechanic came up with this breakthrough! Of course, it required medical specialists to help him develop it for use on actual women and babies, but still, Sr. Odón is a car mechanic! I had my girls watch his TEDx talk (I recommend clicking on the CC button to see English captions unless you understand Argentinian Spanish) in hopes of helping them realize what people--including them--can do if they'll learn and think and be open to finding/creating solutions to problems.

I was saddened to see some of the comments on the NYT article. Some people were basically saying, "The world is overpopulated anyway, so why do we want to save more babies' lives?" Besides the heartlessness they show, don't they realize the economic costs to families who are already poorer for a woman's pregnancy (lost work, illness, etc.) only to face losing a baby and possibly the mother? Moreover, when people are relatively certain that they and their children will have long, healthy lives, they tend to choose to have smaller families. Human beings, besides being driven to procreate, are very risk averse; once we know we'll have our desired progeny and find ourselves enjoying a certain standard of living (which goes up when the females don't go through ten pregnancies, of which four end in tragedy and the last in a fistula), we tend to want to keep that level of prosperity.

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