An Indian designer is among five global innovators to win a coveted enterprise award for designing an inexpensive, easy-to-use device to improve the screening process of new-born babies for hearing loss.
Neeti Kailas won the Rolex Award for Enterprise 2014 for her design and ongoing efforts to set up an associated network of healthcare professionals in India who can diagnose and treat deafness in infants.
“Another of the device’s major advantages over other testing systems is our patented, in-built algorithm that filters out ambient noise from the test signal. This was really important for us because, if you have ever been to health clinics in India, you will know how incredibly crowded and noisy they are,” said the 29-year-old National Institute of Design (NID) graduate, who received the award at a ceremony at the Royal Society in London.
Every year an estimated 100,000 hearing-impaired babies are born in India but there is no routine screening countrywide to detect the condition.
The existing tests are expensive and require skilled healthcare workers.
Early screening is vital because, if left un-addressed, a hearing impairment can impede the development of speech, language, and cognition by the time a baby is six months old.
Kailas’ device works by measuring auditory brainstem response – three electrodes are placed on the baby’s head to detect electrical responses generated by the brain’s auditory system when stimulated.
If the brain does not respond to these aural stimuli, the child cannot hear. The device is battery-operated and non-invasive, which means babies do not need to be sedated, as some tests in the past have required.
Since the equipment is inexpensive and portable, it can be used anywhere.
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise, set up in 1976, are awarded to a new or ongoing project anywhere in the world
which is aimed at improving lives or protecting the world’s natural and cultural heritage and come with a cash prize of 33,000 pounds each.
“To me, design is about problem solving, and thinking about how I can have maximum impact on society. In a country like India, that’s never going to happen by designing the next lemon squeezer,” added Kailas, whose interest in useful design projects began while at NID in Ahmedabad, when she re-designed the bed-pan for Indian hospitals.
Later she joined hands with her engineer husband, Nitin Sisodia, to launch Sohum Innovation Lab and their first product is this device.
This year’s awards are devoted to Young Laureates, aged between 18 and 30 years old, with the idea of encouraging visionary young men and women at a critical juncture in their careers.
Besides India, other countries to make it to this year’s winners list included Cameroon, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Venezuela and Italy.
The eight jury members on the selection panel included Indian film producer Ronnie Screwvala as well as British geneticist, author and broadcaster Adam Rutherford, architect from Burkina Faso Diebedo Francis Kere and Linda Partridge, British scientist and member of the Royal Society.