Surgical Saviour

Douglas Schuler’s new Sterile Box is set to revolutionise healthcare in developing nations

While almost all wealthy nations around the world (except the US) provide universal healthcare, it will hardly come as a revelation that a large portion of the world’s people receive a very poor standard of healthcare. The truth is that this imbalance exists for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that developing regions have little or no money, but what poorer communities lack more specifically with regard to healthcare is access to the proper infrastructure. The good news is a recent invention by an associate business professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas has the potential to overcome this problem for many underprivileged communities, particularly those in Africa.

Douglas Schuler’s creation, the Sterile Box, is a twenty foot shipping container that contains everything doctors need to clean and sterilise surgical equipment. This ‘box’ is specifically designed to be used in places where medical attention is required but cannot usually be provided due to a lack of appropriate infrastructure. The unit is solar powered, includes a water filtration system and has an autoclave device that employs steam to sterilise surgical tools. Although surgeries will not be performed inside the Sterile Box, it provides the clean equipment, water and lighting necessary for doctors to perform operations close-by. Schuler believes that his invention will be particularly beneficial for childbirths as well as in general obstetrics and gynecology. The unit even features outlets from which people may charge their mobile phones, something that is often difficult and occasionally costly to do in third world communities.

Schuler’s invention came about as the result of his father-in-law Jean Boubour’s research in the 1980s on solar powered cooking technology. In 2008 he attempted to launch a business around a cooking system based on Boubour’s research which failed and caused him to rethink his approach. Schuler’s decision to change the application of this research to the medical field culminated in the development of a way to sterilise surgical tools using solar energy in 2012. Using this the Sterile Box eliminates the need for fuels like propane that are required by the existing sterilisation process in third world countries and which present a significant constraint on the availability of sterile equipment to their local populations.

The important step now, as it is with many inventions with revolutionary potential, is that the Sterile Box receives the funding and support necessary to be widely implemented. Schuler is currently looking for the right partnership to help him achieve this and he has already identified 900 potential locations in Africa where he believes the Sterile Box could be deployed. Without a successful partnership, the Sterile Box could share the same fate as Schuler’s previous invention and bust, while communities in developing nations continue to suffer without access to basic healthcare that they desperately need.

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Researcher, writer, wanderer and occasional philosopher with interests both many and varied. I've dedicated my time here to writing about science, technology, war and crime. I hope to further develop my craft and glean some new world insights in this process so constructive feedback is always welcome!


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