A box that could save babies

Published May 9, 2014


Cape Town - Two fathers, Ernst Hertzog from Stellenbosch and Frans de Villiers from Vredehoek, have adapted a baby box – in use in Finland for more than 75 years – hoping it will be an example of a design that can help change a nation.

The box contains baby products and doubles as a cot. It could also help to reduce infant deaths in South Africa.

Their product, called the Thula Baba Box, will be used for a study that will assess its effects on maternal and infant health.

Last year, the BBC Magazine reported that the Finnish box, which is believed to provide a safe sleeping environment for babies, had been credited with decreasing the infant mortality rate in that country.

It contains a small mattress, bedding, nappies, bodysuits and other products.

The Finnish government gives mothers a choice between the box and a cash grant of €140 (R2 040), but 95 percent opt for the box.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that to help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot deaths) babies sleep on their backs, in the same room as their parents but not in the same bed.

Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate received a baby box as a gift for Prince George last year.

“We thought the Finnish box was an amazing example of design that changed a nation. We hope that, given some of our tweaks, our product would have just as much of an impact, Hertzog said.

De Villiers who is the father of an eight-month old, said their box would include medicine, clothes, developmental toys, toiletries and literature, for example, on vaccinations.

He said funding for the project had been received from the J-PAL Africa Incubation Fund, and together with health economists from Stellenbosch University, its effects on maternal and infant health would be studied.

Boxes would be provided to the participants, who will be made up of lower-income families in the Western Cape.

“The study will start in the middle of May. We will conduct the research in a community in the Western Cape and involve 200 participants. We hope to have results for the study in February 2015,” said Professor Ronelle Burger, from the university’s department of economics.

De Villiers said that while the Finnish box was made of cardboard the team was considering a different material for their box as flooding in low-lying areas and other issues could pose a problem in the South African context.

“We’ll get into product design more intensely once the study is completed.”

He said that the team had already been in talks with the Western Cape Department of Health and the hope was that the box would be available to all new mothers at government clinics and hospitals within the next three to five years.

The Thula Baba Box has been selected as a 2014 World Design Capital partner project.

Related Topics: