Saving newborn lives with a cardboard box

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BBC

It’s a safe bet. Sending cardboard boxes to poor countries will be the next big global child health initiative.

The BBC reports today on the history and current use of boxes as newborn beds in Finland. The program started as a form of support for low-income families. In 1949 the government decided to offer mothers money or the box ‘o goods as long as they make a visit to a doctor or pre-natal clinic by the 4th month of pregnancy.

The use of cardboard boxes as child beds in Finland has persisted in popularity for nearly 75 years thanks to this government providing families with these boxed-up maternity packages. The parents are given the option to take 140 euros in cash or a box filled with baby needs. The package includes goodies such outdoor gear for the cold Finnish winters, bedding and diapers. 95% of families choose the box. Then they use it as a crib.

Yes, the cardboard device that brought endless entertainment to cats and imaginative children alike, is also a great bed. And experts claim it reduces infant mortality.

Families not only got stuff (or cash) for going to the doctor, but Finland established a highly successful program that improved maternal and child health.

It proved to be an important step in transforming a country that saw 65 out of every 1,000 children die in the 1930′s to 3 out of every 1,000 by 2011. One of the lowest rates in the world.

Finland is one of the safest places in the world for a mother and child. In fact, Finland came out on top of this year’s Save the Children State of the World’s Mothers Index. Expanding healthcare services and other reforms also played a key role in the development of maternal and child health in Finland, but the boxes appear to have also played a role.

Young father Mark Bosworth told the BBC how he and his wife looked forward to getting the box after giving birth to their first child.

My partner Milla and I were living in London when we had our first child, Jasper, so we weren’t eligible for a free box. But Milla’s parents didn’t want us to miss out, so they bought one and put it in the post.

Dumbo also shuns cradles.

We couldn’t wait to get the lid off. There were all the clothes you would expect, with the addition of a snowsuit for Finland’s icy winters. And then the box itself. I had never considered putting my baby to sleep in a cardboard box, but if it’s good enough for the majority of Finns, then why not? Jasper slept in it – as you might expect – like a baby.

We now live in Helsinki and have just had our second child, Annika. She did get a free box from the Finnish state. This felt to me like evidence that someone cared, someone wanted our baby to have a good start in life. And now when I visit friends with young children it’s nice to see we share some common things. It strengthens that feeling that we are all in this together.

See the full BBC article here.

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About Author

Correspondent Tom Murphy is a Boston-based reporter for Humanosphere. Tom is a prolific writer-blogger and editor of the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy(at)humanosphere.org.

  • Anonymous

    Tom,

    Aren’t the infant mortality statistics a bit misleading? They seem to imply that mortality dropped because of the boxes. However, many other countries have experienced similar drops. Finland’s mortality is comparable to countries with their level of development, and they have many other things going for them (like the supposedly best education system in the world) that could affect infant deaths.

    • http://aviewfromthecave.com Tom Murphy

      I tried, though may have failed, to point out that the drop follows other health reforms such as universal healthcare access. You are definitely right that the boxes did not cause mortality to drop. They are correlated to the nation’s improvements.