New Packaging Protects Infants

New mothers who are positive for HIV now have a way to protect their newborns even when they're born at home thanks to a brilliant packaging concept that mimics ketchup packets from fast food restaurants.

A team of biomedical engineers from Duke University invented a low-cost, user-friendly system that gives mothers the ability to administer an anti-HIV medication to their infants just after they are born. This is an important discovery for babies born to HIV-positive mothers who live far away from hospitals and clinics, such as in developing nations.

Within Days

The anti-HIV drug Nevirapine is only effective when given to newborns within days of delivery. Doctors have found it a challenge to reach distant home-birthing mothers in time to administer the drug to their babies, and moms aren't always able to travel a distance to receive the medication soon after delivering a child. As a response to this problem, the biomedical engineers worked to develop a way to give the medication a longer shelf-life as well as making it easy to dispense. Each plastic and foil pouch holds just one dose of Nevirapine.

Carolina Gamache, who is the program coordinator for Robert Malkin's Developing World Healthcare Technology Laboratory at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke says, "In Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 90 percent of 430,000 new cases of AIDS in 2008 were attributable to mother-to-child transmission. A single dose of Nevirapine right after birth has been shown to be effective in protecting the baby from the virus, but it has been difficult for many reasons to make this option available to women who give birth at home."

Gamache made a presentation of these results at the Appropriate Healthcare Technologies for Developing Countries conference, held in London. This conference is sponsored by the Institute of Engineering and Technology as well as by the World Health Organization (WHO). Judges deemed her paper the top research paper of all those presented at the conference.

Evaporation Issues

In the past, healthcare workers based in Africa tried other ways of packaging Nevirapine in single doses, such as in containers or in syringes, but the medication suffered from evaporation and from a loss of preservatives. The same is not true of bulk quantities of the medication which is common to clinics and hospital pharmacies.

Gamache said that the drug manufacturers have not been very interested in coming up with single dose systems since the target market is limited to the Third World and development costs would have been commensurate with resulting profits.

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