How a car mechanic's invention could save thousands of women's livesS

An Argentine car mechanic named Jorge Odón has used a plastic bag as the centerpiece of a simple device that has the potential to save the lives of women whose babies have gotten stuck in the birth canal during labor. What's incredible is that it's taken this long for doctors to move beyond using often-deadly forceps and suction cups.

Photo by Diego Giudice/NYT

According to the New York Times' Donald McNeil:

Mr. Odón . . . built his first prototype in his kitchen, using a glass jar for a womb, his daughter's doll for the trapped baby, and a fabric bag and sleeve sewn by his wife as his lifesaving device.

Unlikely as it seems, the idea that took shape on his counter has won the enthusiastic endorsement of the World Health Organization and major donors, and an American medical technology company has just licensed it for production.

With the Odón Device, an attendant slips a plastic bag inside a lubricated plastic sleeve around the head, inflates it to grip the head and pulls the bag until the baby emerges.

Doctors say it has enormous potential to save babies in poor countries, and perhaps to reduce cesarean section births in rich ones.

This reminds me of other simple technologies, like the tree branch water filter and cheap rainwater harvester, that are easy to make and could save many, many lives in impoverished regions. What we really need is a 21st Century toolkit for survival, which includes off-the-shelf items that help us with dangerous but everyday needs, like giving birth and getting clean water.