After observing too many unnecessary injuries and deaths caused by surgeries that were interrupted or canceled due to the unavailability of anesthesia, Dr. Paul Fenton designed a device called the Universal Anaesthesia Machine (UAM) that could deliver safe, reliable anesthesia even in the midst of a power outage. Fenton began using the prototype in his hospital in Malawi. When he saw how well the device performed in this environment, he sought to expand production so that other health facilities could benefit from the device. Unfortunately, Fenton was unable to convince investors to provide funding so he could further develop his innovation. He was also unsuccessful in identifying a buyer or licensee to bring the idea forward. At the time, those he spoke with were either hesitant to get involved in a business based in Africa, or they did not perceive an anesthesia machine targeted at low-resource healthcare providers to be commercially viable. Fenton would have to find another way to fund further development of the UAM.
This mini-case study describes how Fenton ultimately entered into an agreement with the Nick Simons Foundation to create Gradian Health Systems, which operates as a nonprofit but uses a commercial approach to sell the UAM at its manufacturing cost so production and dissemination of the device will become self-sustaining and widely scalable within several years.
This story is part of the Global Health Innovation Insight Series developed at Stanford University to shed light on the challenges that global health innovators face as they seek to develop and implement new products and services that address needs in resource-constrained settings.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Erica Frenkel of Gradian for her participation. This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health grant 1 RC4 TW008781-01.