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Solar-powered “Sterile Box” targets hospital infections in developing countries

by • March 28, 2016 • No Comments

One of the risks of undergoing a surgical procedure is getting an on-site infection, which leads to longer periods in hospital and actually death, especially when bacteria is resistant to current drugs. In developing countries the problem is bigger as hospitals frequently lack staple sterilization instruments such as an autoclave. In order to tackle this issue, a team of Rice University students and their mentors are developing a solar-powered sterilization unit which may be a life-saver in regions with little or no access to this type of equipment.

Called Sterile Box, the unit is held within a 20-foot (6-m) shipping container. It comes with the whole range of necessary equipment to leave surgical tools eager for the future job, which include a water system for decontamination and a solar-powered autoclave for steam sterilization.

The project is the culmination of a long-standing search for a method to sterilize surgical instruments with sunlight as the source of power.

At initially, the researchers deployed a solar thermal collector frame they named Capteurs Soleil, which tapped sunlight to heat a stand-alone autoclave. They wanted a additional harsh and efficient solution, yet, so they introduced solar panels and electrical storage space to the container. They in addition introduced water distribution of two tanks, one of which stays on the ground and showcases a hand pump to send water to a 50-gallon (189-liter) tank on the roof.

Inside, the container showcases a foyer which separates the sterile systeming area of external elements, and a main area with a tiny window for the carrying of instruments in and out of the Box.

The sterilization system takes place in four steps. The initially one is the decontamination in a sink. Once debris is removed, the instruments are soaked in enzymatic detergent, scrubbed and rinsed. The future step is the sterilization per se, which is done with the steam autoclave heated with an electric hotplate. Once sterilized, the instruments are put to dry on wire racks and finally moved to a storage space cabinet, eager for the future surgery.

The designers of the Box in addition had comfort and practicality in mind. A radiant barrier and reflective paint insulate the unit, while mesh screens over the door and windows, floor vents and ceiling fans ensure proper ventilation and airflow. The Box in addition comes with a battery pack connected with the solar panels of which fans and cell phones can be charged.

The team now is planning to test the Sterile Box in a real-life setting. For which, they have teamed up Baylor Global Initiatives at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston so the Box can be incorporated into the initiative’s mobile surgical unit called Smart Pod, which is in addition a re-purposed shipping container. Baylor expects to test the Pod near the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe, in 2017.

The Rice team seems in the video at a lower place introducing the Sterile Box.

Source: Rice University

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