Invention saving hundreds of lives

Dr Jeff Carr and his wife Noreen in Moshi, Tanzania
Dr Jeff Carr and his wife Noreen in Moshi, Tanzania

AN invention by former Hipperholme man Dr Jeff Carr is helping to save the lives of hundreds of premature babies in Africa.

Dr Carr, who lived at Cresswell Terrace for eight years, has devoted his spare time to developing life-saving ‘warm cots’ that are now being used to stop tiny babies dying of hypothermia and other related conditions.

A former lecturer at Huddersfield New College, Dr Carr became concerned with the devastating levels of infant mortality in Moshi in northern Tanzania when he moved there following his retirement to become a volunteer teacher.

A combination of poor diet, untreated HIV and malaria leads to one of the highest rates of premature birth in the world.

“There is a common misconception that it is always hot all over Africa,” said Dr Carr. “In fact it can get very cold and Moshi’s altitude of 2,667 ft above sea level means decidedly chilly nights. To premature babies cold is a killer. They are unable to regulate their own body temperature and many die of hypothermia. Mortality rates in these babies can be as high as 80 per cent.

“In addition the idea of prematurity is not widely acknowledged - to African mothers babies are born when they are ready to be born even if many of them arrive early and are very small.”

Dr Carr was so distressed by the situation that he challenged his sixth form students at Moshi Technical School to help him devise a cheap, low-tech solution that could be used quickly and easily in local health centres. The result was the life-saving ‘warm cot’ that has helped to halve mortality rates among premature babies, firstly in Tanzania but now in Uganda and Malawi.

The cots cost 95 per cent less than conventional incubators - £50 compared to £100,000 - and are trusted by the mothers whose lack of education can make them deeply suspicious of ‘high tech’ solutions.

“Overcoming the cultural difference was very important. The mothers had to be happy with the warm cots if they were going to let their babies go in them. They did not trust conventional incubators at all and were very resistant to their use.

“The other thing that was happening was that several babies were being put into one cot in the hospitals, sharing blankets and spreading infection. With the warm cots the babies are kept isolated from each other which has led to much less cross-infection.”

Even though the warm cots are relatively simple technology, finding the right design was crucial. Warm cots are basically ventilated wooden boxes heated constantly and gently by light bulbs with a heat diffuser, maintaining the baby’s body temperature at an optimum level.

“We had to find a way of keeping the temperature at a constant level. I realised it was something my students could help with and, after a lot of work, the design was tried out, approved and endorsed by the paediatric department at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre in Moshi,” said Dr Carr who is 77 and now lives in Lockwood.

Each year a group of Huddersfield New College students visit Moshi for three weeks and Dr Carr and his wife Noreen are preparing to make a trip there this summer to oversee the donation of more warm cots. It’s a commitment that keeps taking him back to Africa, his ‘second home’.

“You get to know the people and the area. It’s very gratifying to know that what we are doing is making such a difference and saving lives,” said Dr Carr who was head of Biology at Huddersfield New College and began links with Tanzania in 1984.

Dr Carr’s efforts are supported by the Christian African Relief Trust (CART), based in Lockwood. To sponsor a warm cot or to find out more information about the charity’s work in Africa contact CARTyorkshire.co.uk