Sir Ray Avery says Life Pods are designed for use in hot climates where supplies of clean water and power are intermittent

The lives of thousands of sick newborn babies in poor countries could be saved with a smart and relatively cheap device, says its Kiwi inventor Sir Ray Avery.

After seven years' work to solve the problems that often disable incubators in developing countries' hospitals, Sir Ray's charity agency Medicine Mondiale is close to putting its revolutionary designs into production.

Around 25 prototypes have been built in New Zealand "to try to kill them" and make the design more resistant to Third World woes, says Sir Ray, the pharmaceutical scientist who developed low-cost ways to make high-quality lenses in Africa and Nepal for cataract surgery.

Now he has joined an Indian manufacturer to produce the "Life Pod" infant incubator.


"When I was wandering around hospitals more than two decades ago selling intra-ocular lenses to surgeons the two most common things we would see was dead babies waiting to be taken away by their family and dead incubators pushed into a corner." Incubators given to Third World hospitals in hot climates had failed because they were designed to run in cooler environments. Some had failed because they were designed for a different voltage than the one available and others because their air filters had blocked.

"When we took swabs the insides were riddled with bacteria because they were using tap water to fill the humidifier chamber."

Premature, under-sized and sick newborns can be placed in an incubator - an enclosed, clear plastic cot - to stabilise their temperature in a continuously warm environment. Sometimes the moisture in the air is increased to help the lungs or skin.

"The specifications say to use sterile, distilled water from a pharmacy," Sir Ray says, "but there isn't a pharmacy with sterile, distilled water in Africa, so they use tap water."

The result is incubators killing babies through high levels of respiratory infections.

The Life Pod, by contrast, sterilises its own water so can be supplied with "dirty river water" and the baby remains safe. It also has a battery back-up so can work uninterrupted despite the power supply breaks that are common in developing countries.

Sir Ray says incubators typically cost around US$35,000 ($44,700); the Life Pod will sell for about US$2000 ($2550).

But before production can begin, the tick of approval is needed from the International Standards Organisation to certify that the Life Pod meets the requirements for medical devices. To do this, several chimerical batches of the incubators have to be made.


To finance this, Sir Ray is launching a $2 million global fundraising appeal on Tuesday. He has sought the endorsement of celebrities by asking them to "beam in" with selfies and a heart motif to #keeplittleheartsbeating.

"Some like Arianna Huffington [of the Huffington Post] can't make it on the night but have pledged support," says Sir Ray.

She told him by email, " ... we would love to feature your voice on HuffPost about the great work your campaign is doing to help infants."