Nigerian mom found out the hard way that jaundice is still a dangerous disease in Africa—but now she’s putting an end to the infant disease with her new tech startup, making solar-powered cribs.
After her traumatic experience with jaundice as a new mother, Virtue Oboro pivoted 180° in her professional life, in an effort to help prevent the terrifying situation from befalling other moms.
Oboro’s son, Tombra, was just 48 hours old when he had to be rushed to the NICU, suffering from a build-up of bilirubin, which causes yellow skin and can lead to permanent damage or even death.
The treatment is fairly simple and widespread in developing countries: blue-light phototherapy.
Virtue’s hospital had no phototherapy devices, so Tombra had to receive a risky emergency blood transfusion. Her son would make a full recovery, but Virtue was changed by the experience.
“I felt like some of the things I experienced could have been avoided,” the visual designer told CNN. “I thought, is there something I could do to make the pain less for the babies and the mothers?”
What could a visual designer do? She designed the Crib A’Glow and named her new company Tiny Hearts.
The portable, deployable phototherapy unit is powered by the African sun, and costs one-sixth the price of a normal phototherapy crib—and manufactured in her homeland of Nigeria.
Virtue’s husband had some experience working with solar panels before, so he lent a hand to the visual designer, who was busy navigating the unknown waters of a new profession. She worked with a pediatrician through the design process to ensure all the details would benefit the tiny babies.
Two years ago, Crib A’Glow picked up a $50,000 grant from Johnson & Johnson through the Africa Innovation Challenge, and the Crib A’Glow can now be found in 500 hospitals across Nigeria and neighboring Ghana. Already it has been used on 300,000 babies.
Virtue, who has also become a 2022 awardee for The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, says a further 200,000 babies were saved from jaundice by deploying the cribs to rural areas—no hospitals or electricity needed.