Gradian: Keeping Heartbeats Going When the Electricity Stops

Gradian's battery-powered medical device is being used to save lives in the most challenging of medical settings.

A power cut in the middle of an operation can mean the difference between life and death. The social enterprise Gradian has developed a machine designed to work without electricity or oxygen.

Author Julian Furtkamp:

Translation Julian Furtkamp, 10.23.17

In many low-income countries, especially within Africa, power cuts are simply part of everyday life. Particularly outside urban areas, electricity supplies can be inadequate and unreliable. And when there’s a power cut in a hospital, right in the middle of an operation, it can have life-threatening consequences.

And power isn’t the only issue here. Oxygen is also needed – medical-grade oxygen – to carry the anesthesia, in the form of vapor, into the patient’s lungs. In well-resourced hospitals, oxygen comes through piping in the walls. But in low-resource hospitals, it’s tapped from tanks, which can run out whenever there supply chain issues.

To tackle this problem, the company Gradian has developed a machine that can carry on working when the electricity cuts out or when a hospital has run out of oxygen. Their Universal Anesthesia Machine (UAM) is a workstation designed “in and for low-resource operating rooms”. The device was developed in Malawi and produced in the UK, and delivers safe anesthesia in any hospital, including those where electricity is unreliable and there are shortages of compressed gases. 

Battery-Powered Breathing

The UAM is powered via a rechargable battery which can work for up to six hours without any electricity supply, allowing operations to go ahead as normal.

And the machine can also supply oxygen too, when supplies run out, thanks to a so-called “integrated oxygen concentrator” that allows the machine to generate its own oxygen. Air is drawn in from the room air – which generally only contains around 20 per cent oxygen – and the nitrogen is filtered out, leaving a gas with up to 90 per cent oxygen content. The machine is able to produce up to ten litres a minute. The air is then mixed with the anesthetic at the right proportion and delivered to the patient. An integrated monitor allows healthcare workers to monitor patients’ vital signs.

While many low-resource hospitals receive donated machines for free, they often come without instruction manuals, meaning they’re only of limited use. That’s why Gradian is sure to offer both maintenance services and training sessions to health workers who are going to work with their equipment. Their mission is to empower low-resource health centres to deliver safe medical services, regardless of the challenges they face in their working environments.

What’s next for Gradian? Well, currently they’re working on developing a standalone ventilator that helps patients that can’t breathe on their own – that like the UAM, works without electricity and without an oxygen supply. 

Here’s a TED Talk from Gradian’s COO, Erica Frenkel, where she talks about how innovative medical technology – when developed with an understanding of the real needs of the people on the ground – can be used to unleash human potential.

This article is a translation by Marisa Pettit of the original article which first appeared on RESET’s German-language site.

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