The first clinical study of a low-cost, handheld jaundice detector shows that saving newborn lives in sub-Saharan Africa is achievable. BiliSpec, a low-cost, battery-powered reader, is designed to diagnose jaundice by immediately quantifying serum bilirubin levels from a small drop of whole blood.

Babies in sub-Saharan Africa are about 100 times more likely to die of jaundice than are babies in the U.S., partly because doctors diagnosing jaundice in sub-Saharan Africa have little to go on other than what their eyes tell them.

The clinical study showed that BiliSpec has comparable accuracy to the more expensive laboratory tests found in high-resource settings. Each BiliSpec test costs about five cents and can be performed in about two minutes right at the patient’s bedside hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa.

BiliSpec is one component of a 17-piece neonatal package called NEST, short for Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies, which is designed specifically for African hospitals.