In the most economically excluded regions of the world about 1.5 million children die of dehydration every year. When patients get to hospital for IV therapy, there may not be enough staff to monitor the drip, and the child may die from receiving the wrong amount of fluid, which is also potentially fatal in cases of over-hydration. In order to help health care workers in those places, engineering students at Rice University have developed a prototype of a technically simple yet ingenuous IV drip system that adds an element of automation to the process.

In the coming months the students will get a chance to test it in the real world when IV DRIP (Dehydrated Relief in Pediatrics) team members, Kamal Shah and Melissa Yuan, will take a prototype to Malawi and Lesotho in Africa, two of the world’s poorest countries with high child mortality rates.

The equipment, first conceived last year as a freshman project, has received the 2012 Willy Revolution Award for Innovation in Engineering Design. The $20-dollar system can autonomously regulate the delivery of fluid to a child and shut off at the right point. Besides, the unit is easy to operate, sturdy and, most importantly, mechanical.

The device itself is part weighing scale, part mousetrap. With the IV bag suspended from one end of a lever arm, a counterweight is placed on the other to balance it. From the balanced position, a doctor or nurse can move the counterweight inward toward the fulcrum by a number of notches, tilting the scale towards the IV bag. Each notch equates to 50 ml of medication. When the desired amount of medication has been dispensed, balance in the lever arm will be restored, with the arm tilting back towards the counterweight. By running the IV supply tube through the lever arm and applying a clamp to the mechanism, the supply tube is crimped, cutting off supply to the IV once the correct dose has been administered. Because the process is effectively automated, workload for care staff is reduced, freeing them to perform other duties.

"There’s nothing digital about it, nothing electrical or fancy," said team member Melissa Yuan. Indeed it is the simplicity of it all that makes the regulator an ideal solution for places that may lack even electricity. This is the kind of approach that Rice University has been favoring through an initiative to take solutions to developing countries, such as a salad spinner that diagnoses anemia without requiring power and a monitor to help nurses notice a non-breathing baby.

The mechanism is demonstrated in the video below.

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