Emergency Smart Pods — Transforming Containers into Modern Medical Clinics

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The Emergency Smart Pod now serves as an isolation unit for infectious patients at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. (USAID)
The Emergency Smart Pod now serves as an isolation unit for infectious patients at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. (USAID)

Emergency Smart Pods — Transforming Containers into Modern Medical Clinics

Sharmila Anandasabapathy

Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy works with a team at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas to harness the power of technology to solve medical problems in remote places around the globe that have scarce resources. The Emergency Smart Pod is a great example of this approach.

“I had this idea for developing amobile, expandable, low-cost shipping container for performing medical procedures like endoscopy,” says Anandasabapathy. “When the Ebola outbreak occurred in 2014, we took that concept and adapted it for a clinic that would be suitable for handling high-level infectious agents.”

As Anandasabapathy and her team further refined the portable clinic idea, they were selected as one of 14 winners of USAID’s Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge, which aimed to provide health care workers on the front lines with better tools to battle the epidemic.

“The greatest thing about science is that the work is no longer done in isolation. The support of USAID gave us the chance to collect information from those in the field. As an example, we learned that the equipment we originally planned to use was too heavy to transport on roads in West Africa, which helped us in thinking through a new direction for using lighter materials,” says Anandasabapathy.

Capable of serving as primary care clinics, surgical centers, and even mobile pharmacies, the pods are far more robust than pop-up clinics often present in hot zones.

Over the past three years, the Baylor College of Medicine team has developed and tested the Emergency Smart Pod, a rapidly deployable treatment center that can serve as an isolation unit for patient care during infectious disease outbreaks, such as the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Each pod can be shipped directly to its destination by boat, truck, or air, and assembled in less than five minutes with a team of four people. In addition, multiple pods can fit together like Legos to create larger medical clinics.

“The pod is designed to provide a lower-cost, ‘off-grid’ solution to areas that lack medical capacity or need augmentation of existing capacity,” says Anandasabapathy.

Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy and her team designed the Emergency Smart Pod, a rapidly deployable patient care unit. / Lindsey Kingston Lampp, Baylor College of Medicine

Dr. Sharmila Anandasabapathy and her team designed the Emergency Smart Pod, a rapidly deployable patient care unit. (Lindsey Kingston Lampp, Baylor College of Medicine)

The Baylor team has been adapting the Smart Pod for use in different community settings. Capable of serving as primary care clinics, surgical centers, and even mobile pharmacies, the pods are far more robust than the pop-up clinics often present in hot zones during an infectious disease outbreak.

In September 2017, the Emergency Smart Pod was shipped to Monrovia, Liberia, where it was used to prepare Ebola survivors for cataract surgeries at ELWA Hospital. The pod now functions as an isolation unit for infectious patients.

Looking toward the future, the Baylor team even has an eye toward Smart Pod uses beyond Earth  --  they have been working with NASA on the Mars habitat program.

About the Author: Avery Waite is a program analyst in USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact and helps manage the Fighting Ebola and Combating Zika and Future Threats Grand Challenges.

Editor's Notes: Sharmila Anandasabapathy, M.D., is a professor of medicine in gastroenterology and director of Baylor Global Initiatives and the Baylor Global Innovation Center at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

'This entry originally appeared in USAID's 2030: Ending Extreme Poverty publication on Medium.com.