One Bangladeshi doctor’s innovative use of shampoo bottles is saving babies from pneumonia.
Low-cost device helps babies with pneumonia to breathe
Meet the doctor whose low-cost device is helping babies with severe pneumonia and hypoxemia to breathe. Dr. Mohammod Jobayer Chisti hopes one day his inexpensive solution will reduce child pneumonia deaths from nearly a million a year to zero.
Life-saving innovation works on same principle as more expensive equipment
Back in 1996, Dr. Mohammod Jobayer Chisti was working his first shift as a medical intern when he witnessed three children die as a result of pneumonia. It motivated him to devise 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. The infection has been listed as the number one cause of mortality in children under age five in developing countries.
In the developed world, the condition can be treated with a ventilator that helps the patient to breathe – but since the average ventilator costs around $15,000, many hospitals in developing countries can’t afford this life-saving equipment.
While Dr. Chisti was studying in Australia, 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.
However, even these ventilators cost around $6,000, which is still prohibitively costly for many hospitals in poorer nations.
One day, Dr. Chisti noticed a discarded shampoo bottle that happened to be filled with bubbles. It reminded him of the CPAP ventilator he had seen in Australia and he became inspired to use the bottle as the basis for a cheaper design.
“We used to give oxygen by a nasal prong… and then we cut one end and connected to a shampoo bottle. When a person takes oxygen it goes to the shampoo bottle and produces the bubbles and that bubbles gives the back-pressure to the lungs of the patient and it creates the positive end expiratory pressure.” Dr. Chisti said at the Pneumonia Innovations Summit.
Chisti’s ingenious ventilator cut pneumonia-related infant deaths by 75%
He tested his makeshift shampoo bottle ventilator on several patients and was stunned to find that they recovered almost overnight.
“In pneumonia, Bubble CPAP can continuously give the oxygen and recruit the lost lung volume and increase the lung function. This is a very simple difference and very simple what we have done but it has an enormous impact.”
Chisti and his research team at the the Dhaka Hospital of the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research then conducted a randomised 2-year study and published the result in The Lancet.
Chisti’s 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/€1.07 per unit, meaning that his hospital has spent 90% less money on pneumonia treatment.
What’s more, since the bottle also uses oxygen far more efficiently, his hospital went from spending $30,000/€25,600 on oxygen every year to just $6,000/€5,120
The device is currently being tested in Ethiopian hospitals, Dr. Cristi hopes his invention will be adopted by medical facilities around the world.
Pneumonia in children: what you need to know
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pneumonia claims the life of a child every 20 seconds and accounts for 16% of all deaths of children under age 5 years old. While 99% of pneumonia-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, it's still important to recognise how the symptoms show up in children.