Hippolite Amadi: Iconic Medical Engineer Keeping Countless Babies Alive

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Prof. Hippolite Amadi

One of the biggest highlights of the 2023 annual NLNG awards was the announcement of Prof. Hippolite Amadi as winner of the Nigeria Prize for Science, which comes with a $100,000 reward. The announcement sent euphoric reverberations across the global scientific community, not only because of Amadi’s track record as a powerhouse of critical neonatal interventions but also for the revolutionary nature of the innovations for which he was being specifically recognised.

Amadi had showcased to the panel of judges three respiratory technologies that have been saving the lives of premature babies by making the delivery of oxygen very cheap and easy. The first innovation is the non-invasive neonatal ventilator (the bubble PoliteCPAP), which delivers continuous positive airway pressure ventilation for very-low-birth-weight babies. The highly-effective but lower-cost alternative to similar devices which are not always accessible in the country, is now considered the gold standard in the care of premature infants with respiratory distress syndrome.

The second innovation is the oxygen delivery blender system, which allows for the safe delivery of oxygen to babies without the danger of toxicity. The third is the oxygen splitter system, which allows one oxygen source to treat many premature babies at once when piped oxygen is not available. Quite remarkably, the three devices are solar-powered, which significantly contributes to their lower cost.

While explaining the reason Amadi’s innovations won the keenly contested prize, the Advisory Board for the award, led by Prof. Barth Nnaji, said his work had not only significantly advanced neonatal care in Nigeria and similar countries, but had also further improved access and lowered the cost of neonatal care by causing an observed reduction in the market prices of the competing and existing devices.

Nnaji stated further that the devices had been tried by practitioners at various hospitals across Nigeria and the feedback was that Amadi’s PoliteCPAP is an improvement on the existing device as it provides access to ventilators and oxygen delivery simultaneously to neonates at an extremely reduced cost of N750,000, as against N6.5 million for the existing device, with comparable and better efficiency.

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Flurry of accolades

In his reaction to the prize-winning innovations, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, through his Special Adviser on Media & Publicity, Ajuri Ngelale, said: “The President commends Professor Amadi for leveraging his extensive background in medical engineering and technology, with a special focus on affordable medical systems, for the betterment, progress, and benefit of Nigerians and humanity in general. This significant work by this great Nigerian scientist will contribute to keeping more Nigerian children alive after birth and prepare them for a better future.”

Also reacting, Mr Andy Odeh, NLNG’s general manager, External Relations and Sustainable Development, said: “We are honoured and deeply moved by the judges’ decision to recognise the ground-breaking innovation in respiratory technology that has been awarded the Nigeria Prize for Science in 2023. This invention not only represents a remarkable leap forward in medical science but also serves as a beacon of hope for the most vulnerable among us – our neonates. It reminds us that true progress is measured not only in scientific achievement but in the lives it touches and saves. Today, we celebrate the impact that innovation can have in enhancing healthcare therapy and safeguarding the futures of countless new-borns. At NLNG, we are proud to be part of a legacy that puts saving lives at the forefront of scientific pursuit.”

Litany of life-saving inventions

Amadi is an orthopaedic biomechanics specialist by training but better known globally as a researcher in neonatal technologies and global neonatal mortality reduction. He is a distinguished professor of medical technology at Imo State University and a visiting professor of medical engineering and technology at Imperial College, London. His engineering and medical career has lasted over three decades, spanning medical engineering, orthopaedics and neonatology research.

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Amadi has, over the years, been celebrated for innovations and discoveries across medical disciplines. Indeed, according to him, the entry that won him the prestigious NLNG Prize for Science constitutes just 23 per cent of all the frugal neonatal interventions he has innovated for neonatal survival in Nigeria. He has introduced several other interventions to cover all the segments of support that make up the “neonatal rescue scheme (NRS)”, as he likes to call it.

Amadi is not just creating medical devices for neonatal practice but also creating antidotes and interventions to close gaps in medical treatment that cause new-born babies to die. According to him, “My vision is to rid Nigeria of the bad reputation of a high neonatal mortality rate, and I’m proud to say that I have essentially done that.”

Amadi’s present role at Imperial College London focuses on Frugal Medical Technology for low- and middle-income countries. Frugal innovation in healthcare creates affordable solutions that meet the specific needs of resource-constrained healthcare systems. These innovations are not limited to technologies and products but also include processes or policies that aim to do more with less.

He is also the principal consultant at Neonatal Concerns for Africa, a charity collaboration between Imperial College and over 25 Nigerian university hospitals that aims to equip young Africans with the skills to create local medical technologies within their environments that focus on the survival of infants.

Mission fuelled by passion

While Amadi has always been drawn to medical engineering, his foray into neonatal technologies and mortality reduction was triggered by certain disturbing discoveries he made, years after graduating from the university. He had studied Mechanical and Production Engineering at Enugu State University of Technology (ESUT), graduating as the best student in 1988. Three years later, he obtained a Masters of Engineering Technology and Management from the same institution.

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By a chance sequence of events, he was brought face to face with the neonatal care environment and he discovered that premature babies were dying needlessly from lack of incubators and other factors. According to him, “That was when the passion gripped me…I saw babies die as a result of preventable causes and there are little things that could have prevented their death.”

Knowing he needed formal medical training to excel in his new-found passion, Amadi proceeded to Imperial College, London, where he obtained a Master of Engineering in Medicine, in 2002; and a Doctorate in Orthopaedic Biomechanics, in 2006. Since then, he has committed himself to filling the technology gap in neonatology and thereby saving many premature babies in Nigeria and beyond from avoidable death.

Awards and recognitions

Amadi has received diverse honours and recognitions for his life-saving innovations and selfless devotion. These include the Presidential Merit Award in Engineering Practice, by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (1999); special recognition for contributions to national development on health, by the committee of chief executives of federal tertiary hospitals of Nigeria (2007); the National Role Model Award in Medicine and Engineering, by Edumark (2008); Distinguished Alumnus Award (Academic/Professional Excellence), by the Alumni of Enugu State University of Science and Technology (2009); and the Distinguished Outstanding Excellence in Engineering Practice and Innovations Award, by Enugu State University of Science and Technology (2010).

Amadi is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine (FRSM) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

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