Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor
Safeguarding childbirth where expert care and electrical power are in short supply

UNICEF, which places priority importance on maternal and neo-natal mortality, reports that a child is 500 times more likely to die in the first day of life than at one month of age in the developing world. Newborn mortality accounts for nearly 60 percent of infant deaths.

A fetal heart rate monitor operates by measuring the infant’s heart rate during birth. Should the child not get enough oxygen in the mother’s placenta, the infant heart rate slows down to lower the need for oxygen. It is a very reliable sign that the fetus is not managing the birth process well. Discovering the lowered heart rate during contractions gives medical workers a chance to suspend delivery and try to move the mother or call for more sophisticated medical assistance.

The Freeplay Fetal Heart Rate Monitor works off-grid where there’s no electricity to support a delivery. It is simple with only an on-off switch and a hand crank for generating its own electricity, and is built for robust operation and made to withstand knock-about conditions. Cranking its onboard power-supply charger for one minute provides a full 10 minutes of operation; two minutes creates 20 minutes of charge; and so on.

 “A number of people came to us and said, ‘Why don’t you think of medical products because hospitals in Africa are littered with derelict Western-derived equipment,” said John Hutchinson, CTO of Freeplay Energy in Cape Town. “They require disposable or replaceable elements, and they’re just not right for the job.’”

In testing the monitor at Cape Town’s Elsies River Community Health Center, Hutchinson says “the best example we have about its behavior is that the midwives we’ve given it to don’t want to give it back. We have a big fight, saying, ‘Excuse me, we need the product back to examine it,’ and the midwives say, ‘No, you can’t have it back. It’s too useful. It makes a big difference in our working day.” 

Designed by

Philip Goodwin (industrial designer), Stefan Zwahlen (electronics designer), John Hutchinson, (project leader) - Cape Town, South Africa