How Medical Devices Powered by Nature Improve Global Health Care

Medical devices traditionally rely on a power source to be operable, making them less than useful when there’s limited or no access to electricity. But thanks to recent advancements in off-grid health care technology, more patients can access the care they need regardless of the area’s access to the utilities many of us take for granted, including electricity and clean water. Here are four innovations that have improved health care providers’ ability to treat patients across the globe.

Solar Suitcases as Medical Devices

Bright lighting, outlets and backup batteries are standard features in most traditional operating rooms, but the lack of a reliable electrical source in developing countries makes it difficult, if not impossible, to provide high-quality care. The We Care Solar Suitcase includes a portable solar-powered electric system that doubles as a lighting and power source. One standard suitcase includes 40 or 80 watts of solar panels, a 12 amp-hour lithium ferrous phosphate battery that provides high-efficiency LED medical-task lighting, a universal phone charger, a battery charger for AAA or AA batteries and outlets for 12-volt DC devices. The company also produces a solar suitcase specifically designed for maternal health that includes a fetal monitor with rechargeable batteries.

According to one health care provider’s story, the solar suitcase transformed a maternity ward in Uganda that was accustomed to losing power at least four nights a week into a safe clinic women could rely on for medical attention during delivery, as well as care for their newborns.

Mobile Medical Records

A health care provider’s ability to share and track patient information was once limited in remote areas of the world, despite being mission-critical to preventing the spread of infectious diseases including malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Medic Mobile offers a free, open-source software toolkit that front-line medical providers can use to share and communicate important details about patient care — including symptoms, diagnosed conditions, medications and immunizations dispensed — all from their mobile devices, even in the remotest parts of the world. The company’s free software is used in more than 20 countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America by more than 13,000 health care workers.

Hand-Held Wound Pumps

Danielle Zurovcik, CEO of Worldwide Innovative Healthcare, tells MIT Technology Review that she didn’t realize she was passionate about medical devices until she collaborated with a group of fellow MIT students to develop an alternative to wound pumps, which traditionally are negative-pressure pumps that use incredible amounts of electricity and cost thousands of dollars to obtain. Zurovcik’s Wound-Pump is hand-held, costs less than $3 to make, requires no electricity to operate and applies steady suction to certain kinds of wounds, helping eliminate infection and stimulate healing. She tested the device in Haiti following its devastating earthquake, as well as in Rwanda. The tool has proven to be a successful and cost-effective alternative that has improved quality of care in impoverished areas across the globe.

Solar-Powered Sterilization

Basic medical tools like scissors, tweezers and scalpels don’t require power — but they can’t be used from one patient to the next until they’ve been properly sanitized with extreme heat and steam pressure. In the absence of a power source, sanitizing with high pressure steam at 121 degrees for at least 15 minutes was impossible in the 50 percent of rural health clinics that operate without electricity, according to MIT.

That’s why Anna Young, a former MIT student and now CEO of MakerNurse, developed the SolarClave with a group of fellow students. It’s a portable system that sterilizes medical equipment using solar power (and pocket mirrors as reflectors) to heat a pressure-cooker system that can sanitize medical devices in about 20 minutes. The device was recognized as one of the top medical device innovations by the World Health Organization and has been tested in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Nigeria and Ethiopia.

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