A Bangladeshi doctor has identified an unlikely savior for hundreds of thousands of babies: discarded shampoo bottles.
Back in 1996, Dr. Mohammod Chisti was working his first shift as a medical intern when he witnessed three children die as a result of pneumonia. Though the event broke his heart, it motivated him to come up with a solution for the high rates of pneumonia-related child mortalities – and the result is nothing short of extraordinary.
Pneumonia is a dangerous infection that causes the lungs to become swollen and filled with fluid, making it hard to breathe. Ordinarily, the condition can be treated with a ventilator that helps the patient to breathe – but since the average ventilator costs about $15,000, many hospitals in developing countries can’t afford the proper equipment.
The infection was listed as the number one cause of mortality in children under age five in developing countries, at the time—and Bangladesh contributed the majority of those fatalities since malnourished children are particularly vulnerable to the condition.
While Chisti was studying in Australia, however, he was introduced to a different kind of ventilator that employed bubble-CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). The machine employs a tube that feeds a child’s exhaled breath into a vat of water, which creates bubbles that pressurize and feed back into the patient’s lung. This helps to improve a patient’s lung capacity so they can overcome the infection.
Unfortunately, these ventilators cost about $6,000, which is still too costly for poorer nations.
Then one day, Chisti noticed a discarded shampoo bottle that happened to be filled with bubbles. It reminded him of the ventilator he had seen in Australia and he became inspired to use the bottle as the basis for a cheaper design.
He tested his makeshift shampoo bottle ventilator on several patients and was stunned to find that they recovered almost overnight.
Chisti and his research team at the the Dhaka Hospital of the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research then conducted a randomized 2-year study and published the result in The Lancet.
His ingenious ventilator cut pneumonia-related infant deaths by 75%.
This is roughly the same mortality rate achieved at more affluent hospitals using conventional ventilators – except his shampoo bottle rig only costs about $1.25, meaning that his hospital has spent 90% less money on pneumonia treatment.
Since the bottle also uses oxygen far more efficiently, his hospital went from spending $30,000 on oxygen every year to just $6,000.
Chisti’s device is currently being tested in Ethiopian hospitals, and the good doctor hopes his invention will start being used by medical facilities around the world.
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