Serge Njidjou has reinvented the incubator, cheaper and adapted to local conditions, to save the babies of his native Cameroon.
A baby born prematurely is extremely fragile and the problem is that incubators are overpriced and poorly adapted to the realities of African hospitals.
“When a Westerner makes the incubator, no one imagines a maternity that is at 40 degrees,” says Serge Njidjou, teacher-researcher at the University of Dschang and inventor of the incubator made in Cameroon.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 60 percent of babies born on the African continent and in Asia are premature.
In Cameroon, according to an information note published in June 2022 by the Ministry of Health, the neonatal mortality rate has fallen from 32 to 28 deaths per 1000 births. These statistics relate to the period 2011-2018.
We know that the care of premature babies requires a high technical platform, in particular high-performance incubators. Only one force is to notice that in Sub-Saharan Africa, the incubators are electric. This is the cause of the deaths of many premature babies due to the recurrence of load shedding.
To solve the thorny problem, Serge Njidjou invented a “smart” incubator.
“We created the incubator, following an incident. One morning, following the news, we learned that a lady had lost her babies. 5 I think. The information is going viral and creating a buzz in Cameroon. As we made incubators for poultry, we know why not make an incubator.
The invention of such medical equipment, innovative and adapted to new technologies, requires colossal financial resources. Unfortunately, the founder of the university innovation agency and his team did not have enough budget to carry out the project. So we do with the means at hand.
The smart incubator that saves lives!
“We did not have the necessary means to acquire the appropriate equipment. So we started with our available assets such as sheet metal, glass, among others… and we manufactured our first incubator. »
Most of the neonatal incubators imported are not often adapted to the energy context of Africa. Most of them run on electricity. As a result, a power outage or a drop in voltage can be fatal for premature babies.
“It’s a device that allows you to take premature babies, and bring them to maturity, in conditions similar to the conditions they should have enjoyed in their mother’s womb. Because ours is technically rooted in the African context, we add certain attributes, certain functionalities, which we believe are important in Africa.”
Foreign-made incubators have expensive costs. In the sales sites the prices vary between 3000 and 7000 euros. While those made in Cameroon are sold at 2900 euros.
The solar incubator has saved the lives of many premature babies in Cameroon.
Satisfaction of mothers of premature children
“I happen to pass in the street. Mothers call me to tell me that their baby has gone to the regional hospital in Bafoussam. And that their child is doing well thanks to the incubator. I cannot describe this moment. The key word is gratitude! exclaims Serge Njidjou.
The neonatal incubator is equipped with a designer to optimize the energy so that it can work on solar power. The device incorporates sensors that transmit all alerts to the doctor’s smartphone in charge of monitoring the premature doctor.
The mothers of the babies also have the possibility of staying in contact with their child via their mobile phone. An option well appreciated by Nadine Magnie. Her premature child benefited from the care of the neonatal solar incubator.
“I gave birth prematurely. At seven months. Fortunately, I was taken care of at Bafoussam hospital. The hospital center has a high technical platform, in particular holds neonatal solar incubators. I admit that I was a bit skeptical about incubators. I was afraid that they weren’t of good quality. Fortunately I am pleasantly surprised. I dreaded the power cuts. With us, it can last 30 minutes. When you have a baby in an incubator, it’s normal to worry. »
“The doctors reassured me. The neonatal incubator has an electrical relay. Being able to see my baby from my room at any time through my mobile phone is just wonderful. I must remember that my state of health did not allow me to move around. This incubator is just innovative. I thank God for having benefited from it. »
This kind of innovation must be popularized everywhere in Cameroon, especially in rural areas where women who give birth to premature babies encounter enormous difficulties.
This is the opinion of Doctor Joséphine Fokam, Director of the SOS Ouest Santé Clinic.
“I had the privilege of working in rural and urban areas, and I can therefore pride myself on having a fairly advanced mastery in the field of neonatology, having worked all my career in maternity and gynecology services. . »
Dr. Fokam nevertheless shares some concerns: “When I see the size of this incubator, and we know that there are still landlocked areas where even cars cannot arrive, was it not a little more judicious to miniaturize, so that even on a motorcycle, we can evacuate premature babies How can we transport it even in areas where you first have to walk a lot on foot, to get to where you can find a motorcycle, before arriving where can you find a car?”
Inventing a latest-generation hybrid neonatal incubator adapted to the socio-economic realities of Africa requires enormous financial means.
“For the moment we have adapted to the production constraint. We have not left the production range of our standard incubators. We have just removed what is really not essential, and we have optimized at the level energy. The baby must remain in acceptable comfort. It’s true that with other lighter, more compact materials… but you can see that it requires going beyond our current production range, which we will certainly do, if the market were to develop.”
Ensuring national demand and why not exporting to other countries on the continent is no easy task, believes the inventor: “It’s true that this is a major concern, because even by fighting to be at least nearly 60% of the price of a classic incubator, we are aware that for the small health centers that we are targeting, it is still expensive”.
He sells the classic incubator for around 2 million CFA francs. He estimates the cost of the transport incubator at between 1.2 and 1.4 million CFA francs.
Cameroon has less than 200 incubators, for more than 90,000 births annually. Figures provided by UNICEF. We can say the invention of the incubator comes at its time.
There is no doubt why the invention of the Cameroonian engineer Serge Njidjou, won many consecrations.
In 2018, the special prize of the head of state for innovation among the 100 most promising global innovations.
In May 2022, she was awarded the most innovative prize for women initiated by the French development agency.