2019 Young Entrepreneurs Awards winner: Virtue Oboro

Initiative: Tiny Hearts

Country of impact: Nigeria

How her newborn son’s fight for life inspired one woman to save thousands of babies

When Virtue Oboro realised her two-day-old son was lethargic with a worrying yellow hue to his eyes and skin, she took him straight to the closest hospital.

There, as she feared, Tonbra was diagnosed with severe jaundice. It’s a condition caused by an excess of bilirubin in the blood – a yellow substance produced when red blood cells naturally break down.

Neonatal jaundice can be treated painlessly, with babies spending time in phototherapy cots, bathed in a special type of light which breaks down the bilirubin.

But due to a lack of available units, Virtue’s tiny baby had to wait. His condition deteriorated, and he needed an emergency blood transfusion.

It was a difficult start but thankfully, four years on, Tonbra is a thriving little boy. And Virtue’s experience was the inspiration behind Tiny Hearts.

Making treatment affordable and accessible for millions

The World Health Organization estimates that 6 million babies worldwide do not receive treatment for neonatal jaundice, putting them at risk of hearing loss, cerebral palsy, blindness and even death.

Vowing that she would make access to phototherapy units more widely available, Virtue drew on her skills as a 3D product designer.

She came up with the Crib A’glow unit: a solar-powered, lightweight phototherapy cot that solves the problems of access, cost and unreliable electricity supply faced by many homes and medical facilities across rural Africa.

The compact units have provided phototherapy treatment for more than 1,800 babies in rural and suburban locations in Nigeria and Ghana since 2016. And Virtue has also launched the Yellow Alert programme to raise awareness of the signs of jaundice among new parents and health workers.

“Crib A’glow cots are available for sale or hire by hospitals, NGOs, government agencies and individuals, and we hope to scale up our reach significantly in the years ahead. We have no doubt the need is there,” Virtue says.

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