The Human Incubator

By Tina Rosenberg

Bullit Marquez/Associated Press

A mother in the Philippines used the warmth of her body to nurture her prematurely born daughter.

Sometimes, the best way to progress isn’t to advance — to step up with more money, more technology, more modernity. It’s to retreat.

Towards the end of the 1970s, the Mother and Child Institute in Bogota, Colombia, was in deep trouble. The institute was the city’s obstetrical reference hospital, where most of the city’s poor women went to give birth. Nurses and doctors were in short supply. In the newly created neonatal intensive care unit, there were so few incubators that premature babies had to share them — sometimes three to an incubator. The crowded conditions spread infections, which are particularly dangerous for preemies. The death rate was high.
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