One of the most serious issues with using medical equipment in the developing world is breakage. Some statistics state that the average life of a large piece of machinery is about 5 years, and hospitals typically have stockpiles of broken machinery that they cannot use.
The problem is availability of spare parts. In some cases machines are taken out of service for minor problems, even fuse replacement, because the distribution network required to get the part does not service that area.
Here in Cambridge Massachusetts, a design company has produced as prototype of a baby incubator for use in such situations. The machine has all of the necessary functions of the most expensive incubators, but is built using car parts.
Why car parts you might ask? Cars are found everywhere, and in many cases they are the only things that get regularly repaired. As a result parts are also available practically everywhere, both formal and informal networks serving even the most remote areas, and the designer believes that this makes the prototype product serviceable and repairable wherever it is found.
A simple idea that could have great knock on effects, I hazard to say. The incubator is heated using a pair of car headlights placed under the mattress, the temperature gauge is a car standard, as is the wiring loom and the air intake and filters. The alarm is a door bell and the emergency lights are direction turning indicators. If power is lost a motorbike battery takes over and it can even be run from jump leads.
The Massachusetts General Hospital has one of the prototypes on display in its museum, but unfortunately it looks as if the designers are still looking for a backer in order to put the project into mass production.
Given that millions of babies are born each year and many die on their first day of life, let us hope that somebody offers them some funds.