A mobile sterilisation box for safe surgeries in rural areas

A sterile pod built into a modified container may be suitable for maternal and neonatal care, oral health care and post-disaster relief.

Researchers and students at Rice University, Texas have created a station that could tackle a health care problem that has plagued rural developing nations: sterile medical facilities. Called the Sterile Box, the station is a mobile container that can sterilise surgical equipment in low-resource settings.

“Infection control in the surgical suite really is a big challenge in the developing world,” said Rice Professor Maria Oden.

While travelling to the affected areas, Oden saw firsthand that rural areas and small cities in developing countries often have medical facilities with improperly maintained or malfunctioning sterilization equipment or no equipment at all. This led to an increase in infections and longer hospital stays.

“I was shocked to learn how many surgeries end up with patients developing some manner of infection,” she added.

The Sterile Box is built into a standard 20-foot steel shipping container and houses all the equipment necessary to prepare surgical instruments for safe reuse, including a water system for decontamination and a solar-powered autoclave for steam sterilisation.

According to Douglas Schuler, an associate professor of business and public policy in Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business, 61 trials conducted in 2015 showed that the system was nearly perfect.

“We tried to really think hard about social context,” Schuler said. “We laid out the elements to minimize human error and water and energy requirements to the extent that we can. I really like that about our design.”

The team expects to test the Sterile Box in a clinical setting alongside Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy, director of Baylor Global Initiatives at Baylor College of Medicine. Baylor Global Initiatives plans to test its own mobile surgical suite, Smart Pod, near the Malawi capital of Lilongwe in 2017.