The objective of the SmartPPE project is to develop innovative technologies to improve personal protective equipment. With the knowledge of working conditions in the field, innovations in the areas of material science, micro- and nanotechnologies, or sensing techniques can be combined to move from rudimentary and cumbersome outfits to truly efficient personal protective equipment (PPE)

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SmartPPE prototype

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Deddeh takes over young Elijah

(whose mother has passed away in the CMC because of Ebola)

There are many children in the Guéckédou Ebola case management centre. Some are orphans, which makes caring for them more complex. Staff easily become attached to these patients, whom they are the only ones to touch and comfort through two pairs of gloves and a mask.

The decontamination of homes and other places where patient or bodies have been is performed by trained personnel in protective clothing using appropriate chlorine solution.

An MSF staff member is helping Robert Mohamed Kelly get dressed as he is being discharged. Robert and his father are the only ones of his family to survive; the other four members have all died of Ebola. His father was discharged two days earlier. Because Robert is suspected to have meningitis he will first go to the hospital. Bo, Ebola Management Centre, December 8, 2014.

Inside the Ebola case management centre (CMC) in Gueckedou.

Context

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has shown amongst other things how much currently available protection equipment is inappropriate in the context of Ebola case management centers. Local health care workers as well as staff from international relief agencies have had to improvise quick fixes and manage with whatever is available.

This lack of appropriate equipment prevents preparedness against the virus and hampers the enforcement of infection prevention and control guidelines. The lack of standardized material and procedures also increases the risk of improper handling and of self-contamination for health care workers.

Issues

Lack of human contact between caregivers and patients: Healthcare workers are fully covered by the PPE, so that the patients can only see their eyes. It is thus difficult for them to read their doctor’s or nurse’s facial expression, or even to recognize them. For workers, it is difficult to speak through their mask and to make themselves understood.

Heat inside the PPE: As the protective equipment is fully impermeable, the lack of fresh air causes a rapid temperature increase. The air is also quickly saturated with water vapor, and transpiration is no longer efficient in cooling the body. Fog forms on the goggles, reducing the already limited field of view of the workers. Fatigue and self-contamination: After spending more than an hour in such an environment, healthcare workers are exhausted, often dehydrated, and eager to remove their PPE and to breathe freely. They are thus prone to errors during the doffing procedure, which can lead to self-contamination.

Cost and waste: Current protective equipment are a combination of 7 or 8 different items, some of which are reusable while others are single-use. Even though each item in itself is relatively cheap, the number of items and the number of times they must be changed every day (remember that working shifts are limited to a maximum of 2 hours before workers overheat or faint) make it very expensive in the long run. Besides this cost issue, all single-use items must be disposed of safely. This means that an incinerator must be available and functional – inside the high risk zone – or that a waste pit must be dug – and can fill up quite quickly with all this waste.

Approach

Our approach in the design of a solution is to consider every stage that our solution will go through during its life cycle. It’s not just about user-centered design, it’s not just about innovative technologies, it’s not just about long-term economic sustainability. It’s more like “all of the above”. We therefore brought together people from all of these fields to address issues from the field.

7. Engineering
8. Manufacturing
9. Logistics
10. Sales
11. Assembly
12. Controlling
1. Commissioning
2. Training
3. Use
4. Preventive maintenance
5. Repair
6. Recycling

Alliance

Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
  • Cooperation and Development Center, EssentialTech Team
  • Laboratory of Integrated Actuators
  • Laboratory of composites and polymer technology
  • Laboratory of Photonic Materials and Fiber Devices
  • Nanoelectronic Devices Laboratory
  • Supramolecular Nanomaterials and Interfaces Laboratory
Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG)
  • Division of Infectious Diseases
  • Laboratory of Virology
  • Division of Tropical and Humanitarian Medicine

Médecins sans frontières (MSF)
University of Geneva (UniGe)
  • Institute of Global Health
Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA)
  • Laboratory for Protection and Physiology

Vision

Our idea is to develop a PPE consisting of a single coverall, including the hood and a face visor. This will dramatically reduce the number of necessary items, thereby speeding up the dressing and undressing procedures. It will also reduce the risk of improper dressing or undressing, thusreducing the risk of self-contamination. More important, the most vulnerable parts of the body (the mouth and eyes) will be better protected, while at the same time offering better vision to the healthcare worker and a more human relationship with the patients.

Impact

The large face visor will allow a more natural contact between patients and caregivers. This has the potential to reinforce trust towards medical staff and encourage people to go to the Ebola management centers. A safer outfit will furthermore allow caregivers to focus more on their patients rather than exclusively on their own safety.

Better ventilation inside the PPE and better materials will allow extending the working shifts. Healthcare workers can thus spend more time doing their job than dressing and undressing. They will also need less time to recover between shifts.

Finally, using fewer equipment items and mostly reusable ones will dramatically reduce the amount of material that must be bought, brought to the hospitals/Ebola management centers, and burnt or buried.

Contact

Project Manager

Matthieu Gani

+41 21 693 70 49

“[The current help efforts] will not be enough if not matched by investment, both public and private, in long-term solutions that include education, good governance, improved infrastructure and functioning health systems. This will be expensive and it will take time. But it will not be as costly as the alternative: more deadly outbreaks.”

Contact us