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Health

This Bangladeshi Doctor Is Using Plastic Bottles to Save Children's Lives


Why Global Citizens Should Care
All people should have access to quality health care without financial hardship. Hospitals in poverty-stricken countries like Bangladesh don’t always have the funds for the medical devices they need. You can join us in making universal health care a reality here

Plastic bottles usually get a bad rap, but one doctor found a lifesaving way to use them.

After two decades of research, Doctor Mohamad Chisti figured out how an affordable plastic bottle device could provide oxygen to children with pneumonia in 2017. Now Chisti is ready to help hospitals around the world adopt his method, the Economist reports

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The doctor is bringing his innovation to a group of Ethiopian hospitals soon. If all goes well, he plans to help hospitals around the world lower the infant pneumonia mortality rate, which accounts for 16% of infant deaths. 

What led Chisti to the idea? The doctor couldn’t stand watching another infant die of pneumonia in Bangladesh due to the lack of efficient ventilators. 

"It was my first night as an intern and three children died before my eyes. I felt so helpless that I cried," Chisti told BBC in 2017, about a traumatizing hospital shift in 1996. 

The World Health Organization guidelines for low-income countries recommend delivering oxygen through the “low-flow” technique. In Chisti’s experience, the technique using a face mask or tubes placed near the nostrils in lieu of pricy ventilators hardly worked. 

Inspired by seeing a bubble-CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) ventilator made to help premature babies breathe in Australia, Chisti was motivated to create a low-flow technique alternative on his own. The bubble-CPAP directs an infant’s exhaled breath through a tube that’s partly submerged in water, and usually costs about $6,000 USD. 

After stumbling upon a shampoo bottle with some leftover bubbles in it, Chisti suspected he’d be able to recreate a bubble-CPAP ventilator. He managed to pull his invention off using an oxygen supply, some tubing, and a plastic bottle filled with water. 

Chisti’s device is made to reduce a patient’s effort to breathe in a cheap yet more efficient way. Even though plastic bottles aren’t usually made of the most sustainable materials, Chisti’s ventilator only costs $1.25 USD, versus the usual $15,000 USD. It also requires using way less oxygen which helps lower steep hospital gas bills. 

Read More: Hunger Gnaws at Rohingya Children in Bangladesh's Refugee Camps

Chisti first presented his discovery to the Dhaka Hospital of the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research in 2015. The hospital has since used Chisti’s plastic bottle method and seen the number of infants who die from pneumonia decreased by three-quarters. The survival rate in Dhaka Hospital is almost the same as in other wealthier facilities using expensive ventilators around the globe. Chisti reports his invention has decreased the hospital’s spending on pneumonia treatment by nearly 90%. 

Even though pneumonia kills more children than any other disease in the world, it receives the least funding. In 2017, 920,000 children under the age of five died of pneumonia, making it the most common cause of death for that group, according to the Economist. In Chisti’s home country Bangladesh, the rate is even higher, causing 28% of infant mortality. Malnourished children are especially susceptible to catching the disease. With the influx of 900,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution in Chisti’s home country Bangladesh, an estimated nearly 700,000 of those being children without enough food, even more are at risk. 

Chisti’s device couldn't have arrived at a better time.