Ubenwa: Using bold innovation to understand babies’ cries

The evolution of technology has caught the attention of various sectors including the health sector where a deep learning model including artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning are being used to analyse the needs of a baby through their cries.

In Africa’s biggest economy, Ubenwa, a Nigerian-owned health-tech startup is developing a platform application that analyses the frequency patterns in the cry of a newborn baby in order to quickly diagnose birth asphyxia.

It develops AI-powered software for early identification of neurological and respiratory conditions in infants using their cry sounds

“One of the things we’ve learnt in our research is that the infants’ cries hold a lot of information on their health and this is what we are trying to extract at Ubenwa. The reason for the existence of the connection between the health and the cry of the baby is because babies have no control over their cry sounds.

“The cry is an involuntary response to internal or external stimulus, and their cry is directly coordinated by the central nervous system (CNS) and what this means is that, when there is a medical condition that affects the CNS, it ultimately changes the pattern of their cries,” Charles Onu, CEO, Ubenwa, said.

While it looks to onboard more hospitals, Ubenwa presently partners with six hospitals internationally, four of which are in Nigeria. They include Enugu State University teaching hospital, River State University teaching hospital, Lagos University teaching hospital, and Lagos state University teaching hospital.

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Ubenwa’s research and development is solving scientific problems associated with babies ranging from evolving brain problems, asphyxia, and is seeing collaboration between computer scientists, medical engineers, and doctors- neonatologists specifically.

According to the World Health Organization, birth asphyxia, which is the loss of oxygen to a newborn during birth, kills about four million infants every year, or more than one-third of all deaths of children under the age of five.

With its recent raise of $2.5 million in pre-seed round led by Radical Ventures with participation from AIX Ventures, Yoshua Bengio, Google Brain’s Hugo Larochelle and Marc Bellemare, the company is focused on carrying out a beta launch, and providing parents the opportunity to connect their app to their existing baby monitor devices.

Also, Ubenwa is looking to continue to advance its research and development. “We want to finalise the clinical programme we are doing internationally and begin the process of getting regulatory approval for our diagnostic tool as a medical device.”

According to the company, it is trying to bring the world to a point where infant cries, just as their heart rates, are considered to be a vital sign.

“Ultimately, our goal is to be a translator for baby cry sounds, providing a non-invasive way to monitor medical conditions everywhere you find a baby- delivery rooms, neonatal and paediatric intensive care units, nurseries, and in the home,” Onu said.

With its machine learning algorithms, the company further stated that it is looking at not just cries for emotional needs but specifically, cries that indicate a health problem, and to gain a wider reach, Ubenwa is seeking more partnerships with both public and private hospitals, within Nigeria and globally.

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