Letter: Baby `experiments'

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The headline on your report on the use of a new type of ventilator for premature babies tells us that "28 babies die in hospital experiment" (18 February).

Last month I returned from several years in Tanzania as a volunteer teacher in a technical school and in a university medical school. We designed and built a low-cost, low-tech incubator for premature babies. In Tanzania, the cost of commercial incubators puts them out of reach for most hospitals.

One of our principal aims was to design something which looked as nearly as possible like a cot and not like piece of technology. Paediatricians know that the death rate amongst prematures under 1kg birthweight is very high, perhaps 90 per cent in village conditions. An incubator might save half of these deaths. However, the mothers do not distinguish full-term babies from prematures; they are all just babies. Some of these will die, but not half of them. If you have a (premature) baby in hospital and they put it in an incubator, it is much more likely to die than the average baby. Conclusion: incubators cook babies; don't let them put your baby into one.

One can understand a woman from a village in one of the world's poorest countries confusing elementary statistical points; but one does expect the sort of person who wrote your headline to know better - particularly as it is pointed out that the death rate for babies kept in the new ventilator was not different from that of other babies.

Our "Moshi hotcot" was a great success and is in use in other hospitals. There are many children alive now because of it. We did a lot of laboratory development work, but there was bound to come a time when the device would be used for the first time on real babies. If you like, we experimented on them. What else could be done? Were we unethical? I thought we were trying to help.

J CARR

Huddersfield,

West Yorkshire

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