Malaria is the leading cause of death among children under five in Uganda according to the World Health Organization’s 2011 report and is responsible for 20% of child deaths. The only tool to limit malaria is the use of mosquito nets, which reduce its spread by up to 63 percent.
For this reason, the innovators made the first biodegradable crib called Kokono. It is covered with a mosquito net, washable and economical, in order to be financially accessible to low-income communities who need a safe space for babies during the night and day.
In Uganda, nets are mainly used by adults and only indirectly by infants through the practice of bed sharing, often causing the baby to be suffocated and crushed.
Dr. Lucia Dal Negro, Founder and Director of Kokono Cradle, said if scaled it would increase local employment, engage female distributors and reduce infant mortality rate by providing a safe space for babies living in need, both in rural and poor urban areas of sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Uganda.
Where the health census revealed that 13% of households have mosquito nets and only 8% of children under five use one.
Designed in Italy and made in Uganda, the bassinet was co-created with end users and protects babies 0-12 months (night and day) from animal attacks, co-sleeping practices (causing suffocation) and accidental knocks in off-grid areas.
“It is made from biodegradable materials and is produced and distributed locally, through a network of women who sell it to poor communities and refugees. It was patented to prevent fake items and reduce infant mortality rates in vulnerable communities,” says Dr Dal Negro.
She explains that it is a cradle born from the desire not to have to choose between reducing pollution or saving lives, but to prioritize both. They wanted to tackle these issues by generating a sustainable product with social impact. That’s how the cradle came to mind.
Dr Dal Negro says the Kokono crèche was born to prove that it is possible to do ethical business in Africa with Africa, without necessarily relying on emergency aid, which sometimes creates dependency, or on massive investments, which often destroy the environment.
“The Kokono bassinet is a product that includes a polymer masterbatch that improves the plastic’s end-of-life biodegradability and maintains the same properties as regular plastic: shelf life, appearance, recyclability, clarity and resistance. Kokono was made after organizing different focus groups in Fort Portal, Hoima, Gulu and Kampala engaging different local groups of over 200 people and we asked them how they would like this nursery to be. They gave us a lot of feedback on uses, materials and shape. We collected everything to produce this product,” she explains.
However, once the product is dumped in a landfill or ends up in the ocean or under the ground, microbes naturally present in these environments use the plastic as a source of food and energy, accelerating the biodegradation process.
What took thousands of years now takes only a few years because the microbes consume all the product.
The only thing left are the same by-products humus, water, carbon dioxide and methane that can be captured to produce clean energy.
Dr. Dal Negro also notes that the crib business model is inclusive. They devised different ways to distribute the cribs, either business-to-business or business-to-consumer.
They will rely on partners to engage their beneficiaries as distributors and to include Kokono cribs in their grants. They have partnerships with Ugandan distributors and sell online.
But there are many things that have “Just think of the pandemic, Kokono was supposed to be distributed in March 2020 while in Italy everything closed. We are currently paying a tax on Kokono’s plastic shell which affects each piece by nearly a dollar, although ours is a green material. We currently pay VAT as if we were selling hairbrushes instead of a baby protection product,” she says.
Mr. John Mutebe, the program manager of the Federation of Small and Medium Enterprises (FSME), explains that they decided to test the product in Uganda first, as they want to see maternal health improve in this ecosystem. and also realized that it is environmentally friendly and can also create jobs.