The first few weeks of life are critical for premature and low birth weight babies, as their ability to regulate their own body temperature is not fully developed. Placing the baby in an incubator, essentially a man-made version of the womb, helps maintain an infant’s temperature and environment. However, the use of incubators in low-resource countries is much more difficult, as the products are generally too expensive.
“The statistics, especially in lower source environments, are pretty grim: About every 10 seconds a baby dies, and usually it’s due to problems of hypothermia or sepsis,” says Govind Rao, Ph.D., professor and director at the Center for Advanced Sensor Technology at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). “Low birth weight has become increasingly common as women defer childbirth. If you had an inexpensive way to intervene and keep baby warm, it would have a dramatic impact.” Rao added that premature babies born in these environments are also at risk of infection, because the incubators are not always effectively cleaned and sanitized. This means that as one sick baby leaves the incubator, the next baby coming in is highly susceptible to accepting the infection. “That becomes a highly problematic issue leading to high mortality,” says Rao.