The aim of the GlobalNeonat project is to develop a preterm and low-birth-weight infant incubator system combining a heating system based on a phase-change material and ultra-low power consumption, together with a phototherapy unit. It must additionally be affordable, effective and durable in the context of district hospitals in low and middle income countries.
The reduction of child mortality is listed as a priority target under The Millennium Development Goals. The number of under-five deaths worldwide has declined from more than 12 million in 1990 to 7.6 million in 2010 with the highest rates of child mortality still in Sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, the decline is not seen across all age groups: Neonatal mortality (i.e. below 4 weeks of ages) thus currently represents an increasingly large share of overall child mortality, well over 40%. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region of the world that has the highest risk of death in the first month of life and that has shown the least progress.
Among the causes of neonatal mortality, hypothermia (low body temperature) is one of the most important in developing countries, even though up to 40% of deaths associated with hypothermia could be prevented by simple and appropriate thermal management. Skin-to-skin contact (“kangaroo mother care”) that is advocated as the first line intervention to prevent hypothermia is not always possible, especially when phototherapy is also required for the treatment of jaundice. Jaundice affects one of four neonates and more severely premature and growth retarded infants. If left untreated, it is one of the main causes of cerebral palsy in developing countries (Kernicterus).
Existing incubator and infant warmer technology developed for Western countries is costly and not adapted for the use in the context of developing countries, in addition to generating high running costs. Instability of local electrical supply causes failures in the sensitive electronic control systems leading to heat loss and significant additional safety and hygiene issues whilst the ventilation mechanism is off. This project aims to develop an entirely new technical concept for providing thermal therapy combined with phototherapy, which will be affordable and adapted to the environmental constraints of developing countries.
This project will be developed using the methodology of the EssentialTech programme. It takes into account the whole life-cycle of the device, to make sure that the incubator is adapted to each step of this cycle and to the different people who will use it.