Virtue Oboro went through every mother’s worst fear in 2015, when her newborn baby was sent to the hospital for emergency care at the age of 48 hours.
Tombra, her son, was diagnosed with jaundice, a disorder that affects more than 60% of infants globally. Many cases are minor and go away on their own, but more serious cases need phototherapy, which involves exposing newborns to blue light.
It’s a simple, successful therapy, but access to the essential equipment isn’t always feasible in some locations, including Oboro’s native nation of Nigeria. Failure to seek treatment might result in permanent health issues such as hearing loss, visual impairment, brain damage, and cerebral palsy.
Tombra’s health was critical, but there were no phototherapy devices accessible, so his family had to wait four hours as his condition worsened.
He was eventually given an emergency blood transfusion, a dangerous procedure that bought him some time until a phototherapy device could be found. During Tombra’s seven-day therapy, Oboro claims she had to buy the bulb herself, and power interruptions caused the unit to be turned off for many hours.
Despite the several challenges, her kid, who is now six years old, has made a full recovery. However, Oboro claims that the experience was traumatic, prompting her to change jobs.
She designed the Crib A’Glow as part of a new mission to save newborns from jaundice. It’s a portable, cheap, solar-powered phototherapy machine that uses blue LED lights to cure jaundice.
“I felt that some of the things (I went through) could have been avoided, or the degree of stress could have been decreased,” she adds. “I wondered if there was anything I could do to alleviate the anguish for the newborns and moms.”
Bilirubin, a yellow chemical formed when red blood cells break down, builds up in the blood, causing jaundice. The liver normally removes bilirubin, but the livers of infants are frequently not formed enough to do so properly. The blue light makes it easier for the liver to break down bilirubin.
According to Hippolite Amadi, a professor of bioengineering at Imperial College, London, who specialises in newborn medicine and has worked with neonatal hospitals in Nigeria for over 20 years, Oboro’s experience with power outages and faulty equipment is not unusual in Nigeria.
According to Amadi, parents frequently have to drive significant distances to reach a hospital, and not all of them have phototherapy equipment or newborn experts. “At some of these centres, one may discover enormous numbers of antiquated or broken systems,” he writes, adding that “less than 5% of all Nigerian hospitals has sufficient functional phototherapy devices” to assist necessary patients.
This raises the risk of a poor outcome: newborns in low and middle-income countries are 27 times more likely to suffer from brain damage caused by jaundice and 119 times more likely to die than infants in high-income countries.