Low-tech Baby Care

Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) is the brainchild of Colombian pediatrician Edgar Rey, who introduced it to the Instituto Materno Infantil in 1978. It was an idea born out of desperation. The institute served the city’s poorest—those who lived crammed in the rickety makeshift dwellings in the foothills of the surrounding mountains. At the time, this was the biggest neonatal unit in all of Colombia, responsible for delivering 30,000 babies a year.

Overcrowding was so bad that three babies would have to share an incubator at a time and the rate of cross-infection was high. Death rates were spiraling, and so too was the level of abandonment. Many young, impoverished mothers who never even got to touch their babies found it easier just to take off.

Scouting around for a solution to these problems, Rey happened upon a paper on the physiology of the kangaroo. It mentioned how at birth, kangaroos are bald and roughly the size of a peanut—very immature, just like a human pre-term baby. Once in its mother’s pouch, the kangaroo receives thermal regulation from the direct skin-to-skin contact afforded by its lack of hair. It then latches onto its mother’s nipple, where it remains until it has grown to roughly a quarter of its mother’s weight, when it is finally ready to emerge into the world.

This struck a chord with Rey. He went back to the institute and decided to test it out. He trained mothers of premature babies to carry them just as kangaroos do. Working alongside his colleague Hector Martinez, he taught them the importance of breastfeeding and discharged them just as soon as their babies were able. The results were remarkable. Death rates and infection levels dropped immediately. Overcrowding was reduced because hospital stays were much shorter, incubators were freed up, and the number of abandoned babies fell.

Read more: Kangaroo care—why keeping baby close is better for everyone, Ars Technica. Thanks to Tim Miller.

Spinning Toy Reinvented as Low-tech Centrifuge

Growing up in India, Manu Prakash entertained himself with a bottle cap that spun around on two strings that he tugged with his fingers. As a physical biologist at Stanford University in California, he is now transforming that simple toy, called a whirligig, into a cheap tool to help diagnose diseases such as malaria.

Other researchers have come up with low-tech, inexpensive centrifuges that used salad spinners3 and egg beaters4, but these devices could manage only around 1,200 rotations per minute (r.p.m.) and took too long to process samples, says Prakash.

Hoping to do better, his team went on a shopping spree to a toy store, collecting spinning gizmos and filming them with a high-speed camera. Yo-yos spun too slowly (and required training to use). But whirligigs were both easy to operate and reached speeds of 10,000 r.p.m., comparable to a commercial centrifuge.

See & read more at Nature. Thanks to Rodger Kram & Austin Liu.

The Inactivity Pandemic

The least fit ten-year-old English child from a class of 30 in 1998 would be one of the five fittest children in the same class tested today. Read more: Poor fitness is a bigger threat to child health than obesity.

Community-Based Health Care

HealthHesperian is a non-profit publisher of books and newsletters for community-based health care. Our first book, Where There Is No Doctor, is considered to be one of the most accessible and widely used community health books in the world. Simply written and heavily illustrated, Hesperian books are designed so that people with little formal education can understand, apply and share health information. Developed collaboratively with health workers and community members from around the world, our books and newsletters address the underlying social, political, and economic causes of poor health and suggest ways groups can organize to improve health conditions in their communities. Hesperian publishes all of our books in English and Spanish and our open copyright policy facilitates adaptations and translations into many other languages. Our books are available for purchase or free download.” Via The Survivalist Blog.

Peak Health

“A 20-year-old today can expect to live one less healthy year over his or her lifespan than a 20-year-old a decade ago, even though life expectancy has grown”. Read.

Modern Day Flintstones

A modern-day Stone Age subculture is developing in the United States, where wannabe cavemen mimic their distant ancestors. They eat lots of meat, bathe in icy water and run around barefoot. Some researchers say people led healthier lives in pre-historic times. Read. More here.