According to the World Health Organisation, 20 million children worldwide are born preterm every year.
Four million of these babies die annually from hypothermia — a dangerous condition where the body has an abnormally low temperature — and many of these deaths occur in developing countries.
Kenya is among the top 15 countries with the highest rate of premature babies worldwide. These are on the rise due to effects of malaria, diabetes, high blood pressure, malnutrition, HIV and Aids.
Babies who are born pre-term require incubators to be kept warm and to stay alive. This is the principal function of incubators. They provide warmth to premature babies to keep them alive. Sadly, many health facilities, especially in rural areas, do not have electricity and cannot afford incubators, due to lack of resources.
It is due to these challenges, and in a bid to save more pre-term babies, that a US-based firm invented a baby warmer blanket called Incublanket that costs Sh2,000.
The Incublanket is like a tiny sleeping bag with a removable warm pack that is heated before insertion.
“IncuBlankets are easy to use and suitable for all conditions, more so for rural health facilities. They are portable incubators, which are charged by merely boiling them with hot water. They then retain the charge for up to two years,” said CEO Grace Hsia at the ‘incubator’s launch.
Once fully charged, the blankets are ready for use at any time. All you have to do to activate them is press a button provided on the heat pack and warmth is released within seconds. The baby is then placed in it and it can keep the baby at normal body temperature for up to eight hours.
The Incublanket’s temperature is monitored using thermometers attached on it and colour based thermo spot stickers are stuck on the baby for easy visual monitoring.
Unlike the traditional incubators where the mother is separated from her baby, the Incublanket is portable and the mother can hold her child which further enhances that vital mother-child bond.
Not only are they perfect for places where there is no electricity, they are can also be used in those facilities which already have incubators, but get overwhelmed by the numbers example the Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH).
“Currently, the new born unit at KNH has 14 working incubators while five are in need of repairs. This forces us to place three or four children in an incubator meant for just one. This unit needs an additional 25 incubators at the very least,” says Dr Florence Ogongo, new born unit assistant nurse-in-charge.
This situation has been further complicated due to free maternity services following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive that all maternity deliveries, including caesarean sections, in all public hospitals, are offered free of charge.
Dr Ogongo says they now have to use the kangaroo mother care technique where the tiny infant is held skin-to-skin on the mother’s chest. This keeps the baby warm, facilitates breastfeeding and wards off infection.
At Pumwani Maternity hospital, the largest maternity facility in Kenya, the situation is even more dire where the approximately 60 pre-term babies born there are left to make do with only nine incubators.
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