Design engineer Malav Sanghavi has created the BabyLifeBox, a cardboard low-cost incubator that could help reduce the infant mortality rate in India
When Malav Sanghvi’s cousin had a baby girl, the newborn had to be kept in an incubator for a while to help her survive. The experience got the design engineer (a National Institute of Design alumnus who is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Innovation Design Engineering from the Imperial College, London) thinking. Yes, his cousin had access to the facilities that helped save the life of her child. But what about all the others who didn’t?
As he began researching the issue, he came across some startling figures — 3,00,000 babies in rural India die within the first 24 hours of their birth, among the highest in the world. While primary and community health centres were equipped to deal with standard births, the same wasn’t the case with premature and underweight infants. What could be done to bring down this number? Malav found the solution in an invention he calls the BabyLifeBox — a low-cost incubator made with cardboard.
“I have always been inclined towards designing products that are affordable and cost-effective. When I was researching the problems at the grassroot level with regard to healthcare services in India, I found out that many of these problems can be taken care of by providing low-cost solutions. When my cousin’s child had to be kept in the incubator I thought, what would have happened if these facilities were not available? This inspired me to develop a low-cost solution for the areas where these facilities are not available,” says Malav, talking about how he began working on his invention.
His initial field research yielded heartbreaking stories — such as one of an infant who was delivered at home as there were no healthcare facilities nearby. “The child was underweight and started becoming cold as the body temperature dropped. It was rushed immediately to the district maternity hospital but unfortunately it was too late for the child to survive,” recounts Malav, adding that there were many such instances, reflected all over India, caused due to lack of access to immediate healthcare services.
In designing BabyLifeBox, Malav was inspired by Finnish “baby boxes” — cardboard boxes provided by the government of Finland that hold all the basic amenities for a newborn, an initiative that is believed to have reduced the infant mortality rate there significantly. Malav’s creation has a cardboard base that parents can take their child home in, equipped with basic post-neonatal care for the infant for the next six to eight months. The top half (the lid) is embedded with technology and remains at the healthcare facility, ready to be placed over the next cardboard box for the next infant. “It provides the most basic functionality necessary for a child’s survival in the critical first days of life, like warmth for hypothermia, a clean environment, humidity and monitoring of heart rate and temperature,” Malav explains.
Currently, different finishes for the cardboard are being tested to make it infection-free, easy to clean and with increased durability. BabyLifeBox was recently presented at Pitch@Palace, a prestigious event organised by Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, to encourage start-ups in the UK. It took home one of the top prizes, while also winning Malav praise from the Duke himself. Now, Malav is looking for possible collaborations with organisations like the WHO, Unicef, Red Cross, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation etc, to set up low-cost neonatal intense critical units across India.
For Malav, who previously created a new age ‘walking stick’ that was presented at TED MED Mumbai in 2013, his innovations are all about the user. “During my under-graduate years at NID, we were always taught to keep users at the centre of design and subsequently design the whole system around them. Design to me is something that will meaningfully help people and improve their lives,” he tells us. He adds that the words of his mentor, Prof. M.P. Ranjan, have always been a great influence. Quoting his teacher, Malav says, “In design, the intention is not only to make the product better, but in some cases, to replace the product altogether. For the offering may not be a technical solution, but it may be a social solution. If the solution lies outside the engineering realm, engineers will never attempt it. That is what design is supposed to do: To be able to access what needs to be brought to bear on the problem, and to realise it.”...