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Can you make an incubator out of a car?

Hospital incubators like this one are complicated, expensive machines that are difficult to repair.
Hospital incubators like this one are complicated, expensive machines that are difficult to repair.

Newborn babies are delicate. Some are more fragile than others and need a little help. Premature babies or newborns with a low body weight may have trouble regulating body temperature. Incubators provide a safe, warm environment in which a baby can grow strong enough to survive under normal care.

In developed nations, incubators aren't scarce, but they are expensive. Hospital incubators can cost tens of thousands of dollars each. While that's a price hospitals in affluent countries can pay, the same can't be said of medical facilities in poor and developing countries.

Many hospitals in developing countries can't afford an incubator. Some philanthropic hospitals and organizations have donated incubators to poorer nations in an attempt to help them. But hospital incubators are complicated machines that require special parts. Even if a poor hospital can afford an incubator -- or receive a donated machine from a charitable organization -- ongoing maintenance will be expensive and require specialized training. Many hospitals in poor countries simply can't afford the investment.

A nonprofit organization called the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) aims to help these impoverished hospitals and potentially prevent millions of newborn deaths each year through its Global Health Initiative program. Its solution is to create incubators out of automobile parts.

Such a solution has a couple of huge advantages. First, unlike hospital incubator parts, car parts are relatively cheap. Second, you don't need a special hospital technician to make repairs. With a little training, an auto mechanic can make the necessary repairs and maintenance to keep the incubators in working order.

The car incubator uses an intake filter -- the same kind that prevents dirt from coming into your engine -- to provide protection against dust inside the incubator. Heat comes from headlights, and a fan helps distribute the warmth. If something goes wrong, turn signals blink on and off to provide a visual warning while a car alarm or door chime sounds. Seat belts can secure the infant in place. If the hospital experiences a loss of power, a motorcycle battery can provide emergency back-up electricity to the incubator. And the incubator's bassinet can detach from the wheeled base.

CIMIT accepts donations to help support its programs, and the organization has been working on the incubator project since 2007. Meanwhile, other health care organizations are trying to decrease infant mortality rates by encouraging hospitals and parents to follow safe techniques. Combined, these approaches could make a significant impact on newborn death rates in developing countries.

For more innovative solutions to difficult problems, take a look at the links on the next page.