Undergoing surgery is an unavoidable fact of life for hundreds of millions of people. But in low resource countries unable to ensure adequate hygiene and correctly sterilised instruments, the risk of picking up a life-threatening infection while you’re being operated on is yet another inescapable reality. According to statistics from the WHO, rates of infections in healthcare settings in developing countries range from 15 to 40 per cent in contrast to five to 10 per cent in the developed world. It’s a situation that Professor Douglas Schuler from Rice University, and his students, want to change. Their weapon of choice is a stand-alone operations trailer: the Sterile Box.
We say stand-alone, because while it looks like a run-of-the-mill shipping container, it’s actually a fully-equipped operating room, with a closed water circulation system and its own electricity supply fuelled by solar panels. The renewable energy source is the key thing when it comes to the topic of hygiene, with the solar panels also powering a pressure chamber that can sterilise the surgical instruments using steam. Just boiling them in water, which is the method of sterilisation used in many places that lack equipment, electricity or know-how, doesn’t offer sufficient protection against infection.
When developing the operating room, Professor Schuler’s team didn’t just concentrate on delivering a reliable energy and water supply. The whole working process of an operation, from preparation all the way to the follow-up procedures, were taken into account and provided for.
The Sterile Box hasn’t been tested in a clinical setting yet (they estimate it will be ready for a trial by 2017), but even now in the early stages, the potential of the invention is clear. It seems like a well-thought out idea that not only offers a huge opportunity to people in developing countries, but could also be used to save lives in other settings too, where insufficient water and electricity supplies are engendering infection, such as during disaster relief efforts.
This article was translated from the original by Silvana that appeared on our German language platform.