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The gel to stop newborn infections gets stuck

On a massive complex in Sango-Otta, Ogun State, a huge operation is underway. The complex generates its own power, for both heating and cooling.


A line pipes distilled water into a vat inside. An air lock leads into its warehouse. Pressure and sterility is under tight control: only one door can open at a time. Two doors open at a time lets off an alarm.

In the warehouse are batches of guar gum and chlorhexidine digluconate. Both join the distilled water in the vat inside a processing room to make a gel. The gel sits for hours and must pass quality control before the next step.


In a filling room, a worker in green surgical wear and mask sorts empty tubes onto a line. A mechanical sorter guides the tubes top-down onto a rotating hold. One by one, the tubes come under a press. A dollop of 7.1% chlorhexidine digluconate gel is squeezed in. Another robot seals the end. The tube is ready – 25,000 of them in a single production batch.

Each tube is bound for the umbilical cord of a baby somewhere in Nigeria, and will deliver 4% chlorhexidine (CHX) on each daily application until the stump of the baby’s umbilical cord falls off.

At least, that’s what is supposed to happen. But it isn’t.



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