Every year, it is estimated that 15 million babies are born preterm, with numbers rising. Almost 1 million children die each year due to complications of preterm birth, and many face a lifetime of disability. Although preterm birth is a global problem, there are stark inequalities in survival rates around the world. In low-income settings, half of babies born at or before 32 weeks die due to lack of cost-effective care such as a stable warm environment and basic care for infections. In contrast, almost all of these babies survive in high-income countries.
One of the major challenges is the lack of incubators in low-income countries. Most hospitals and clinics in low-resource settings do not have enough incubators to meet the tremendous need. First of all, incubators are extremely expensive, and donated incubators are not only confusing to operate but also difficult to maintain and repair. In addition, the size of the incubators can be very large, making it difficult to transport them to where they are needed the most.
MOM Incubator is an inexpensive, electronically controlled inflatable incubator, complete with heat, light and humidifier. It was created by design student James Roberts who was so moved after seeing a report from a refugee camp near the Syrian border, which showed babies dying due to lack of incubation.
He created a prototype of an inflatable incubator specifically for use in refugee camps and disaster zones that is cheap, collapsible, easy to sterilize and requires minimal power to operate. In fact, it can be powered from a variety of power sources such as batteries or solar. Testing has shown that it provides the same stable heat environment as conventional incubation systems, while the simple control system increase the likelihood of its effectiveness. And while conventional incubators can cost upwards of £30,000 a unit and is expensive to transport, the inflatable version can be manufactured, tested and delivered for around £250.
The innovative incubator, which has won the James Dyson Award, has the potential to save millions worldwide. Although it was specifically designed for use in refugee camps and disaster zones, its low cost, minimal power requirements, simple delivery and transport, makes it perfect for other resource-poor settings in Africa and South Asia where more than 60% of preterm births occur.
Although there already are low-cost baby-warming products, like Embrace, aimed at the developing world, the inflatable incubator has many added features. It not only resemble a conventional incubator, but provide the same stable heat environment. James Roberts is currently approaching investors to help fund full scale production.