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A Cooler for Beer? No, a Warmer for Babies

SPH student promotes low-tech incubators in India


In Dahanu, a tribal area near Mumbai, India, poverty gives rise to a high percentage of low-birth-weight babies and also decreases their chances of long-term survival. And as in most of India, there is no adequate system to support the use of traditional infant incubators that require electricity and trained staff to operate them. But a new grassroots intervention is helping reduce the risks, according to Sudha Ramani (SPH’08), a master’s student in health services research at Boston University’s School of Public Health: the use of polystyrene (better known as Thermocol, or Styrofoam) boxes as baby incubators.

“These boxes look very similar to the beer coolers that you find in the United States,” says Ramani, “and cutting four holes on two sides is all that is done to convert it into a baby incubator.”

The project was initiated by S. R. Daga, formerly a pediatrician at Cama Hospital in Mumbai, India, whose goal was to find an inexpensive way to prevent hypothermia among babies in low-resource areas. The polystyrene boxes are a good answer: they’re inexpensive, easily accessible, and can be used by anyone.

“When we went into the field, we thought that people would prefer a sophisticated incubator,” says Ramani, “so it was a real surprise when they told us, ‘No, we want these boxes, not an actual incubator.’”

The boxes allow women to put their babies down and work — a critical need in a low-resource region — which makes the polystyrene boxes a more practical alternative than “kangaroo care,” the practice advocated by the World Health Organization that encourages caretakers to hold the babies close to their bodies at all times to keep them warm.

According to Ramani, the only problem people have with Thermocol boxes is aesthetic — because they’re white, they become dirty quickly. In response, she plans to redesign the boxes to make them look more appealing. She says that people want to feel pride in the way they raise their children, telling her: “When the relatives come to my house, they should say, ‘Wow, what a beautiful box!’”

Robin Berghaus can be reached at berghaus@bu.edu.

Music provided by Kevin MacLeod


One Comment on A Cooler for Beer? No, a Warmer for Babies

  • baby boy on 05.26.2008 at 1:49 pm

    Its an amazing invention. I hope it will help save life’s.

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