Rice U. profs meet fundraising goal for Malawi neonatal ward

Richards-Kortum, Oden in Africa this week to present donation for new nursery

The lives of Rice University professors Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden were forever changed by a visit to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH) in Malawi, Africa, in 2006. The pair hopes to return the favor this week when they deliver $375,000 in donations for a new neonatal ward.

The money was raised via the Day One Project, an ambitious and innovative effort that Oden and Richards-Kortum launched in May when they donated their $100,000 prize from the 2013 Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation. They won the award for their pioneering efforts to inspire and lead Rice students to invent low-cost health care technologies for developing nations. And their donation inspired a new level of commitment among donors. In addition to several large contributions, more than 100 donors contributed smaller amounts online through an innovative “crowd funding” campaign driven by social media.

“Maria and I were particularly moved by the support from young Rice alumni and from young people in general,” said Richards-Kortum, the Stanley C. Moore Professor and chair of the Department of Bioengineering and director of Rice 360°: Institute for Global Health Technologies. “One young man donated the $500 grand prize that he won last spring in an engineering-design competition for high school students.”

Together, Richards-Kortum and Oden have guided more than 3,000 Rice students through the invention process and overseen the development of nearly 60 health technologies that are helping 45,000 people in 24 countries.

Rice University's Day One Project is committed to providing a new neonatal nursery at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, the African hospital that has helped implement Rice's low-cost, student-designed health care technologies since 2007.

And neither professor has forgotten that first visit to QECH in 2006. At the time, they were still formulating their plans for Rice’s award-winning, hands-on engineering design and education program Beyond Traditional Borders. BTB was founded in 2006 with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Richards-Kortum and Oden first visited QECH while laying the groundwork for BTB’s summer program. BTB sends about a dozen Rice students overseas each summer to work with partners in the developing world. There they test the prototypes that Rice students have created throughout the school year at Rice’s Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen (OEDK).

“I’ll never forget that first visit,” said Oden, director of the OEDK. “There was great need, and it was clear that innovative technologies could make a tremendous difference. But there was also a great sense of hope. The staff at QECH is extraordinary. They are deeply committed to making a difference, and they were very open to innovation and to working with our students.”

QECH has hosted BTB students each summer since that first visit, and through the Day One Project, Richards-Kortum and Oden hope to meet two goals: significantly expand the hospital’s neonatal facilities and establish an “innovation hub” where Rice’s student-developed technologies can be proven and showcased for other Malawian and African health professionals.

“As Malawi’s largest teaching hospital, QECH trains the country’s next generation of leaders in medicine,” said Dr. Neil Kennedy, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Malawi. “The doctors and nurses that train with the technologies available in the Day One Nursery will be able to carry forward the experience to their jobs in hospitals throughout the region, multiplying the impact of the facility.”

Ultimately, Oden and Richards-Kortum hope to use the Day One facility to create a collection of low-cost, neonatal technologies that a district hospital serving 250,000 people could implement for about $5,000.

To learn more, visit http://rice360.rice.edu/dayoneproject.


About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.