How these bracelets are helping moms vaccinate their children

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Posted by Alma Sana Inc. on Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Twenty-five year old Lauren Braun has a solution that could help moms around the world keep track of their babies' vaccinations—a pressing problem in the developing world.

Every year, 1.5 million children around the world die from vaccine-preventable diseases, according to UNICEF.

Braun's idea—a pliable bracelet with symbols for the various vaccinations—could be the answer to reducing these deaths.

As a student at Cornell University, Braun did a summer internship in Cusco, Peru, working on maternal and child health.

"I noticed that indigenous, low-income moms weren't remembering to bring their children to the clinic for vaccinations on time, although the vaccines were available for free," Braun says, now a Master's student at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Science.

The problem? "They were handed a small paper reminder, which quickly got lost and the date forgotten."

Braun thought that if holding onto a piece of paper was too hard for families, what about a silicone bracelet that easily fit on the wrists of babies?

That summer, she drew up a quick sketch of her idea and shared it with local nurses in Peru. They were very keen to try it out, she says.

Excited to continue the bracelet design and research process, Braun founded Alma Sana Inc., a nonprofit whose mission is "to ensure that every child, no matter where he or she lives, gets life-saving vaccinations on time."

In 2013, after submitting a proposal, Braun's organization received $100,000 from the Gates Foundation to test the idea. Because many of the mothers she met were illiterate, the bracelet uses symbols and numbers that show the type of vaccination needed, and when the mother should bring in her child. After the appointment, a nurse punches out the symbol with a small hole-puncher.

Braun used the funds to do a pilot study, surveying 167 babies and their mothers in Ecuador and Peru, two areas she knew well from her college internship. In total, 91 percent of the moms in the study said the bracelet helped as a reminder, along with the card.

"It was not designed to replace the existing system, including vaccination cards," she says.

The team also learned that size could be an issue, especially as the babies grow.

"For some babies the bracelet was a little too big, but for the most part it became too small. When that happened, moms still used the bracelets and stored them in a box or bag with the baby's things or kept it on the counter in their homes so they could always see it," she says.

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Braun is now looking to expand on her initial study and raise further funding for a larger, more encompassing study that would include countries in Africa, where immunization rates are the lowest in the world. In phase two, she says, her nonprofit will work with a field partner and follow 1,500 families along with a control group.

In 2016, when she visits countries such as Nigeria, Braun also plans to test out new ideas. So far, the bracelets have been uniform, just different in color to identify gender. But now Braun plans on producing custom-made bracelets for each country.

"As soon as we have some funding in place, we'll start bracelet pre-testing in Nigeria. A team will go out into the field and ask moms what they like and don't like about the bracelet, and based on their feedback we'll completely redesign it—colors, shapes, numbering, format," she says.

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