Shipping containers become tiny clinics to aid in disaster

Solar power is helping tiny clinics made from shipping containers save lives as a mobile medicine option for disaster response


By Andrea Fox, EMS1 Contributor

Marietta High School students have been working with solar panels, waste recycling systems and furniture design to turn 8-foot by 40-foot shipping containers into off-grid models similar to two tiny clinics recently delivered to Haiti’s Les Cayes General Hospital — an area still recovering from Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Maria flooding.

Clinic in A Can, a maker of the tiny clinics, provided grant funding for Marietta’s credit-earning high school design project, which began in 2014. The pre-engineering students that participated two afternoons each week built out their designs with engineering, architecture and other professional mentors, like Marcellus Pitts, chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Pitts-Fowler Enterprises. He told Youth Today that the idea that helping people would motivate students proved sound.

Disaster response often requires the aid of mobile medicine, a need tiny clinics serve during the transitional phase of disaster recovery. (Photo/Flickr)
Disaster response often requires the aid of mobile medicine, a need tiny clinics serve during the transitional phase of disaster recovery. (Photo/Flickr)

The student prototypes will remain at the Georgia highschool’s Engineering and Architecture Research Laboratory for Sustainability (EARLS) Lab, but the results of the students’ work will address a stated educational need by the community of Plaine de L’Arbre, in the northern part of Haiti. They want a community and training center where visiting teachers can hold classes.

The reality is that disaster survivors have a wide variety of special needs, such as refrigeration for insulin and electricity to keep oxygen machines and surgical equipment going. Disaster response often requires the aid of mobile medicine, a need tiny clinics serve during the transitional phase of disaster recovery.

What are tiny clinics?

Hospitals of Hope, the non-profit organization that owns the Kansas-based Clinic in A Can, has deployed tiny clinics for disaster response needs for emergency medicine, primary care and infectious diseases in many places throughout the world.

The first tiny clinic took two years to design and one to construct, and was set up in Les Cayes and after the 2010 earthquake. It costed $12,000 to build, equip and ship, according to Michael Wawrzewski, founder and CEO of Hospitals of Hope. Many more have since been built and deployed in Haiti, and are still in active use, according to non-profit organization.

According to Clinic in A Can’s Facebook account, GE Foundation supported the two new mother and natal care tiny clinic units that were sent to Haiti this month. They’ll provide flexible space for medical treatment and examinations while repairs continue at Les Cayes’ General Hospital.

Though customizable, the self-contained tiny clinics by Clinic in a Can consist of two exam rooms, a laboratory and a mechanical room with a generator and water system. They can be modified to contain a dental room, a radiology suite or a surgical suite, according to the company.

Solar-powered tiny clinics

Like the new units sent to Las Cruces, they can be deployed to areas that get knocked off the grid. According to the company, solar-powered tiny clinics are designed to support life-saving medical needs in remote locations, regardless of surrounding infrastructure:

  • 6 mt units with six solar panels and eight lead acid batteries run 24 hours/7 days per weeks
  • A nine solar panel and eight lead acid battery option will run two 6 mt tiny clinics 8 hours/7 days per week
  • The average power consumption for an air conditioner, shallow well water pump, LED lighting and all medical equipment in a 6 mt unit is less than 500 watts
  • In overcast conditions, the solar powered tiny clinics provide power through a back-up battery system for up to 18 hours, with all equipment running normally

The units are built in the U.S. and shipped ready for use.

Learn more about how shipping containers can be used to help out both disasters and homelessness:

About the author
Andrea Fox is Editor of EfficientGov.com and Senior Editor at Praetorian Digital. She is based in Massachusetts.

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