It pops out from a backpack, inflates with a rechargeable battery in less than two minutes, and looks like a float you might find in a swimming pool.
But the Surgibox — a genius invention conceived by Dr. Debbie Lin Teodorescu while she was still at medical school — is actually a portable, inflatable operating theatre that provides a sterilised space for surgeons to work in conflict zones.
And its creator says it’s better than the real thing.
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The Telegraph reports that the plastic theatre took seven years to create, six designs to perfect, weighs less than 5kg, and costs just £100.
It can be used for all kinds of operations, but the design works best with chest, abdominal, orthopedic, and pelvic procedures.
For example, if there’s been an earthquake — indeed, the concept was inspired by the challenges faced in Haiti following an earthquake in 2010 — a doctor could use the theatre to treat fractures.
They could set up the equipment in no time at all, protect themselves from possible bodily fluids through covered arm holes, keep the patient safe in a sealed space, and quickly operate in a clean environment, even if the surroundings outside are unhygienic.
However, the design is not intended for complex surgery that might require post-operative care, according to the Telegraph. Instead, it’s ideal for “everyday” operations that often rank among the world’s biggest killers, like maternal complications and appendicitis, which can usually be treated with basic surgery.
“It’s incredibly exciting because SurgiBox creates the opportunity to make safe surgery accessible,” Teodorescu told the Telegraph. “It’s not just a good operating room, but a better than state-of-the-art operating room.”
Around the world, some 5 billion people don’t have access to safe surgery — and 18 million people die every year as a result.
An additional 143 million operations are needed annually in low- and middle-income countries, according to the Lancel Commission, but a quarter of people who require it will incur financial ruin if they go through with it.
But the Surgibox can create a safe and affordable environment for these operations to take place without the infrastructure of hospitals — meaning that even outside of conflict zones, it’s an innovation that could help health systems in poor countries deliver vital care in difficult circumstances.
“Surgery can happen anywhere in the field,” Teodorescu said. “If [doctors] have a surgical tent they operate there, if they have a bombed out school they might use that. People have to be incredibly resourceful in these situations.”
“But our system doesn’t rely on having anything,” she added. “You don’t even need an operating table. It means surgery can happen anywhere.”
We are passionate about building a future in which we need never give up on men, women, and children with injuries and illnesses that would have been survivable in the US, but whose only mistake was to sustain them too close to conflict zones. #bettergoldenhour#savetheexpectanthttps://t.co/ruIan14VY1— SurgiBox (@SurgiBoxInc) October 11, 2018
The UK has played its part in pushing forward trials for the technology.
Although the inflatable theatre hasn’t yet been tested in the field, it hopes to get there by the end of the year with the support of UK aid — the budget used by the British Department for International Development (DfID) to help the 736 million people around the world who live in extreme poverty.
Overall, Britain spends 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on UK aid, and in 2017, that equated to just over £14 billion. For the Surgibox, DfID worked in coalition with governments from the Netherlands and the United States to provide a £200,000 grant.
The grant is part of the Humanitarian Grand Challenge fund, set up specifically to invest in life-saving innovations that reach the most vulnerable people affected by conflict.
“UK aid is at the cutting edge of research and innovation that will change the way that emergency surgery is delivered in conflict and disaster zones, allowing safe, effective surgery any place, any time,” said Penny Mordaunt, the UK’s international development secretary.
“This is one of several projects from the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, which I initiated with my counterparts at USAID to support and nurture ideas which will allow us to deliver aid more effectively in the future.”
From 600 amazing responses 23 awesome ideas to save and change lives in conflict situations. We will develop, test and scale. Thank you all. @USAIDMarkGreen@DutchMFA and I will be funding a further round of innovation. https://t.co/glS9j5jz5m— Penny Mordaunt MP (@PennyMordaunt) September 26, 2018