Worldwide, there are approximately 15 million infants born prematurely every year. One million will not see their first birthday. Many could be saved with the use of an incubator, however modern incubators cost in excess of $30,000 - far beyond the financial means of much of the world. This points to the worldwide cry for very basic incubators to address the needs of premature infants (note, that simple incubators can also be warm beds for full-term babies).
Richard Allen is the founder of The Incubator Project (TIP). In 1907 his father was born prematurely and was placed in a warm oven to maintain his life. One hundred years later, in 2007, his granddaughter was also an incubator baby. This family history impacted Mr. Allen. In 2013 he applied his 45 years of engineering experience to address the need for simple baby incubators to be gifted to remote third-world areas, war-torn districts and disaster-relief territories. As TIP is launching, the focus is on Central and South America, however, anyplace in the world with a viable need is appropriate. TIP receives advise from Johns Hopkins Hospital and Franklin Square Hospital neonatal care physicians.
The incubator is durable, simple-to-operate, and light-weight (37 pounds). It operates on 120 volts with three 75-watt light bulbs in its base. Air entering the base is warmed by the bulbs. Convection causes air to flow into the upper chamber and warm the infant. The spent air is exhausted through vents in the upper chamber. An upper chamber thermostat controls the lights’ heat. All parts are easily replaced.
The incubator’s base consists of highly durable COOSA board which is expanded polyurethane (made in the USA). It resists the hazards of highly humid climates and it’s light weight holds down delivery costs. Maryland Correctional Enterprises (a division of the Maryland State Prison system) cuts, paints and assembles the boards for the lower - and part of the upper - chambers of the unit. The remaining portion of the upper chamber is plexiglass. Volunteers do the final assembly in a facility provided by the Martin Aviation Museum/Martin State Airport (Maryland). They drill the holes, bond the plexiglass, connect the two chambers, wire the remaining electrical components, and test the units. The simple design permits partial disassembly to meet shipping requirements, as well as, luggage restrictions for commercial airliners. Reassembly is easy at the destination. A 459 NM ultraviolet L.E.D. lamp (to combat jaundice) is included.
The initial funding was from Kiwanis Club of Baltimore City and from a Kiwanis member’s bequest. This supports the creation of over 100 units. Additional funding is welcomed and will provide for the continued building of incubators.
The Incubator Project (TIP) needs assistance in the following areas:
- Identification of viable users: It is a challenge to identify the proper persons with organizations that will put the incubators to use…and not misuse or sell them to other parties. Due to the simplicity of the units, their placement in somewhat modern hospitals is not appropriate.
- Shipment: Delivery costs are a challenge. Shipping disassembled units helps. Partnering with shipments of other organizations is highly desirable.
- Volunteer help: They are needed with all phases of the project.