From bush hospital to American infirmary, Anna Young, designer at Little Devices, an MIT lab dedicated to medical DiY, imagines maker-compatible solutions to give power back to nursing staff.
The sterile object coming out of its packaging and the state-of-the-art machine that shakes fluids while humming are not the reality of hospitals that the designer Anna Young visits throughout the world. They are in fact dedicated to establishments cut off from the supply lines or simply without electricity. In charge of medical design and co-founder of Little Devices, a lab of the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) “that explores design, invention, and legislative spaces for DiY health technologies”, Anna Young designs lasting solutions for “an innovative medicine of the last kilometre”. She was in Paris in June to present her solutions as part of the Hello Tomorrow conference.
Simple solutions for a complex reality
The medical designer often illustrates this last kilometre by mentioning a vehicle bogged down in the savannah: “How does one create the medical equipment Land Rover?” And she presents a nebulizer. This fairly common medical device that turns liquid into fine particles to treat asthma, an illness that kills one person in 250 in the world. Except that her model works with a simple bicycle pump.
“Extreme hospitals receive medical technology, except that six months later, 90% of that equipment is out of order.”
Anna Young, Little Devices
Anna Young lists her assessments: beyond even a medical technology that does not lend itself to extreme conditions, “50% of rural clinics that serve three billion people function without electricity.” In 2011, Little Devices developed SolarClave, a solar pressure chamber that allows you to sterilise surgical instruments without being connected to a power supply. An autoclave that can be made locally with a pressure cooker, a bucket and 250 pocket mirrors.
Classified by the WHO among “the most innovative technologies for world health”, SolarClave found its place in hospitals that practise “rural surgery” in Nicaragua, Ecuador, Niger and Ethiopia. Anna Young says she gets inspiration from the DiY of developing countries, from people such as Yombo Awojobi, rural surgeon and “prolific inventor” in Niger.
Stimulating “medical making”
In 2012, Jose Gomez-Marquez,founder of Little Devices, imagined MEDIKit, a diagnosis and treatment case, the tools of which are partly made of Legos. “When you use toys, it demystifies medical technology” he says, adding that the toy forms “a more fluid, better distributed and less costly supply line than that of medical equipment”.
For Jose Gomez-Marquez as for Anna Young, this shift of the expert and the regulator towards medical staff does not only concern hospitals on the far side of the world. The MakerNURSE project, supported by Little Devices, allows the community of American health professionals to share their know-how on a web platform.
According to Mary Beth Dwyer, a nurse associated with the project, “a large number of solutions in the nursing field are passed down through generations”. In other words, the caregiver, by colouring pills or repairing a stethoscope, has always been a bit of a maker. In the end it is the manner of diffusion of this know-how that Little Devices is looking to change.
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