Cheap ways to help premature babies breathe easy​

One of the more pressing challenges in the first few hours and days of an infant's life is their ability to breathe. A baby's lungs are not fully formed until well after term, and so a premature baby does not quite have what it takes to breathe on their own.

Antenatal corticosteroids given to the mother can cross the womb into the baby's lungs and help them to be ready to breathe air on their own after birth. But often, this is not enough. Most premature babies will need some pressure to help their small elastic fluid lungs stay open whenever it is needed.

We do this with a simple device called a CPAP or Continuous Positive Airways Pressure​. A CPAP delivers a gentle stream of warm, humidified air with enough pressure to prevent the baby's airways from collapsing. This helps get the carbon dioxide out and helps the baby from getting too tired from working hard to breathe.

With ongoing innovation, the CPAP units are getting simpler to use and less expensive every day. Countries are thinking more and more about how they can be provided to infants without them needing to leave the mother's warmth and nurturing embrace. ​

Adapted from Dr. Fyezah Jehan's talk at the Gates Foundation GoalKeepers 2030 event on September 20, 2023 in New York, US.