Baby bubble machine

The 'baby bubble'

The first 48 hours of life can be critical for a newborn baby. Infections like pneumonia, contracted during a baby’s first two days, can prove fatal.

In the developed world devices to help newborn babies struggling for breath are commonplace. However, they are often out of reach in poorer nations, who do not have the resources to buy or house this technology in their hospitals.

But a collective in Malawi is looking to change that. In Malawi, over 30% of children who die before they are one year old do so because of respiratory infections. To help tackle this, the Friends of Sick Children Malawi have developed an innovative, low-cost ‘baby bubble’ – essentially an air pump – that helps newborns with breathing difficulties.  

Nurse checking on a baby in the maternity unit
Nurse Florence Mwenifumbo, a 'bubble' trainer, Blantyre, Malawi. Image: Greg Funnell/Save the Children

It has been designed to work in environments with limited resources. Without the wall-mounted air supplies that are commonplace in developed world hospitals, this pump must work on its own. It is also made of durable materials that are easy to repair and inexpensive. At $400, it is a fraction of the cost of the $6,000 devices often used in richer countries.

The device could transform the life chances of newborn babies. If  taken up more widely, it has the potential to prevent 178,000 neonatal deaths per year on the African continent.

That’s why this device, developed by the Friends of Sick Children Malawi, along with Rice University and the University of Malawi College of Medicine, has won the GSK and Save the Children Healthcare Innovation Award. With $400,000 from the award, its developers hope to take their technology to places like Tanzania and Zambia.

  • 95%

    Over 95% of pneumonia episodes occurring in children worldwide affect those living in developing countries.

  • 30%

    In Malawi, over 30% of children who die before they are one year old do so because of respiratory infections.

Innovating to reduce child deaths

The Healthcare Innovation Awards were set up in May 2013, as part of the partnership between GSK and Save the Children, to identify and reward innovative approaches for preventing deaths among under fives.

We wanted to find organisations in the developing world that had shown an original approach to reducing child deaths. Nearly 100 submissions were received from 29 countries. Five winners were chosen by a panel of experts in the fields of public health, science and academia.

Cutting the number of children dying before their fifth birthday is a challenge that desperately needs addressing. In 2012, 6.6 million under the age of five died. Globally, three million babies die in their first 28 days of life.

Diarrhoea and pneumonia are among the biggest killers of young children. Pneumonia alone kills 1.1 million children under five each year – that’s more than AIDS, malaria and TB combined. 

Finding life-saving, low-cost solutions such as the ‘baby bubble’ is key to helping prevent children in our poorest countries dying from everyday infections like pneumonia.