Nigerian mom on a mission to save babies from jaundice disease designs solar-powered cribs

Virtue Oboro was blessed with her son Tombra in 2015. Everything was going well until 48 hours later, when her newborn needed emergency treatment for jaundice.

This condition is caused when bilirubin builds up in the blood. Bilirubin is formed when red blood cells are broken down. It is usually removed by the liver, but the liver of newborns isn’t developed enough to do this effectively.


Most cases resolve on their own. However, more severe cases may require phototherapy. This involves placing the babies under blue light to help break down the bilirubin.

It’s an easy and effective treatment, but it could be difficult to get in some places, including Oboro’s hometown of Nigeria.

Neglecting to get treatment could result in irreversible health issues such as vision impairment, brain damage, hearing loss, cerebral palsy, cerebral palsy, or vision loss. Jaundice can sometimes lead to death in rare cases.

Virtue Oboro looking at Crib A'Glows

Tombra’s case was serious, but there were no phototherapy units available at the time. His family had to wait four hours while the poor baby’s condition worsened.

Eventually, Tombra was given an emergency blood transfusion—a risky surgery that bought him much-needed time until a phototherapy unit became available.

Oboro said that she had to buy the bulb for herself. There were also power outages at the time, which meant the unit was off for several hours during the newborn’s seven-day treatment.

Her six-year-old son made a complete recovery despite the many obstacles. However, she stated that the experience was very traumatizing and made her want to change careers.

Oboro wanted to save babies from jaundice, so she created the Crib A’glow—a portable and affordable solar-powered phototherapy unit that treats jaundice with blue LED lights.

A family using a Crib A'glow

“I felt like some of the things (I experienced) could have been avoided, or the stress level could be reduced,” she said. “I thought, is there something I could do to make the pain less for the babies and the mothers?”

Shortly after Tombra’s recovery, Oboro founded her company, Tiny Hearts, in 2016 and began developing the life-saving solar-powered phototherapy units.

Oboro, a visual designer, said that she was not able to deal with medical technicalities. Her husband was an expert in solar energy and was willing to help. Oboro also collaborated with a pediatrician in order to ensure that the device was safe, and that it met current guidelines for phototherapy.

According to neonatal specialist Hippolite Amadi, one of the most effective phototherapy units currently used in Oboro’s country costs around $2,000, which is quite expensive for hospitals on a budget.

An infographic for Crib A'glow

But Crib A’glow—manufactured in Nigeria using local materials—retails for only $360 per unit. Because they can save on import tax and other fees, the company can sell it at a lower price.

The solar-powered phototherapy units can be taken anywhere, even to families without electricity.

“Seeing devices coming out that will solve that problem is very exciting,” Amadi said.

The professor said that innovations like Crib A’glow can be used in tandem with traditional phototherapy machines, allowing babies to start their jaundice treatment in a hospital and finish at the comfort of their homes.

“Such technology needs to be supported and production scaled up to tackle neonatal conditions in Nigeria,” Amadi added.

A dummy newborn being placed inside a Crib A'glow

Due to its brilliant design, Crib A’glow has received award grants, including $50,000 from Johnson and Johnson’s Africa Innovation Award. Most recently, the device was chosen as a finalist for this year’s Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize.

Over 500 hospitals in Nigeria and Ghana have already used the cribs to treat more than 300,000. Tiny Hearts hopes that it will expand to other sub-Saharan African countries.

The demand for solar-powered Crib A’glows soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many parents wanting to avoid hospitals and look after their babies at home. The team is currently working on protective eyewear that will blindfold the children during phototherapy.

Oboro, who feels grateful that Tombra survived the ordeal, is now on a mission to “save a hundred and one more babies.”

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