In areas where incubators are unavailable, some mothers will even resort to tying hot water bottles to infants or placing them dangerously close to light bulbs that can shatter on them.
After developing the Embrace prototype, the team formed a company around their invention and began winning seed money from a variety of foundations.
In 2008, they won the Stanford Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, an award given to companies that have demonstrated ideas with the power to create social change.
The team then developed a plan to bring the Embrace to India -- the country with the largest number of premature and LBW babies in the world. Chen, Panicker, Murty and Liang now all live in India, where they have spent the past year conducting trials and manufacturing the product. They expect to release it on the market in India in March 2011.
"The whole philosophy of Embrace is that you have to be close to your end user to make a really good design," Chen said. "Being here we have just learned so much and it's been critical to the success of this product."
By 2013, Chen expects the Embrace will be able to save more than 100,000 babies in India and prevent illness for as many as 800,000. She and her team are planning to expand to other developing nations in the years to come.
The Embrace co-founders have also learned there is an added benefit to saving so many babies. According to Nobel prize winning economist Muhammad Yunus, reducing the rate of infant deaths actually helps to control population growth. The theory is that as parents become more confident of their babies' survival they are more willing to use contraceptives and have fewer children. In India, a country of over 1.1 billion people, this is a welcomed side effect.
The "Be the Change: Save a Life" initiative is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.