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September 2015 – Bright ideas and Blantyre Cots

If you want something doing ask a busy woman.   Dr Queen Dube, takes time to introduce us to the Director of Queens, Dr Goonani, and embarrasses me by telling him about all the projects SI Kenilworth have supported through Friends of Sick Children in Malawi.   We’ve been a busy Club!


Dr Queen Dube and me
Dr Queen Dube and me


Then we trot round the various wards, Queen walks quickly by Malawi standards.   She clearly adores babies and chats constantly to staff and mums, checking on this, confirming that.

A few Western style incubators are available, and as we’re getting used to, with several babies per cot for the administration of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) – this keeps prem babies lungs open with gentle pressure.   They run using fish tank pumps, these work fine, they’re cheap and easy to maintain.

Other babies who are less sick (the term is relative) are kept in wooden warming boxes, heated from below – Blantyre cots.   Those with jaundice are treated with a simple UV light above.


Blantyre Cot with UV light box - and yes, two babies
Blantyre Cot with UV light box – and yes, two babies


The lights have been designed and made by students at the Polytechnic next door.   Instead of expensive UV strips, LEDs are used with kitchen foil for reflection.   These are far cheaper, more robust and last longer.

Although it all looks a bit Heath Robinson to our eyes, both the Blantyre cots and the UV systems are far less susceptible to the variations in power, a major problem with the highly technical fancy Western medical machinery.   The incubators are about $30,000 each and the thermostats tend to go when the power fluctuates – ‘cooking or freezing’ the babies!

Once again, the ingenuity of the Malawi people astounds me.