Virtue Oboro is the founder of Tiny Hearts, a company she established as a result of the health condition of her newborn baby, Tombra. At just two days old, her newborn son was diagnosed with jaundice which requires phototherapy (where babies are placed under blue light) for more serious cases.
Delayed or no treatment at all could lead to hearing loss, vision impairment, brain damage and cerebral palsy as well as death. However, in many places in Nigeria including where she gave birth, there is limited access to the equipment to treat baby jaundice, according to CNN.
Tombra had a severe case of jaundice but there was no phototherapy unit available for treatment. To stabilize Tombra’s condition, medical officers gave him an emergency blood transfusion until a phototherapy unit became available.
The power situation in Nigeria also meant that the phototherapy unit was off for several hours during Tombra’s treatment. In spite of the challenges, Oboro’s child survived but nearly 3.3 million babies in sub-Saharan Africa do not receive proper treatment for this affliction.
Oboro’s unpleasant experience inspired her to change her career and save babies from jaundice, a condition in which the skin, whites of the eyes and mucous membranes turn yellow due to a high level of bilirubin, a yellow-orange bile pigment. Oboro under her company Tiny Hearts created a portable, solar-powered phototherapy unit called Crib A’Glow which treats jaundice using blue LED lights.
“I felt like some of the things (I experienced) could have been avoided, or the stress level could be reduced,” she told CNN. “I thought, is there something I could do to make the pain less for the babies and the mothers?”
The invention has even received award grants including $50,000 from Johnson and Johnson’s Africa Innovation Award. Recently, the device was selected as a finalist for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize 2022. She also received the 2019 Young Entrepreneurs Award.
Oboro is a visual designer so her husband, who has experience working with solar energy, helped her introduce her product. What’s more, to ensure that the equipment was up to standard and safe to use, she sought the expertise of a pediatrician.
Oboro’s baby cribs are affordable compared to the brands on the market. One phototherapy unit cost around $2,000 while she retails for $360 per unit. Her units are all produced in Nigeria using local materials.
They are also solar-powered to cater to Nigeria’s erratic power supply. Since they are portable, they can even be used at home by parents living in remote areas with limited or inconsistent access to electricity.
According to Oboro, although her invention received some positive reviews and many hospitals are embracing it, it wasn’t easy getting some hospitals and medical professionals to test the unit.
“…the perception was if it was made in Nigeria, it probably would not work well,” she said.
Nonetheless, the cribs are being used in more than 500 hospitals across Nigeria and Ghana, treating over 300,000 babies. According to Oboro, she is hoping to expand to other Sub-Saharan African countries.