13 June 2013

Africa: Chinese 'Container Hospitals' Ready to Deploy in Africa

Photo: Stuart Price/UN Photo
Mothers sit with their malnourished and dehydrated children in a ward at Banadir Hospital in the Somali capital Mogadishu.

Africa's first 'container hospital', developed by Chinese scientists, could be ready for use by the end of the month (June), following two years of development.

It will be located in either Cameroon or Namibia, depending on government approval.

Its developers say that the hospital's ten component containers can be slotted together in different configurations, like toy blocks, depending on individual countries' needs.

Each hospital consists of ten containers with rooms for general clinics, waiting patients, treatments, a pharmacy and back-up power supply. The hospitals developers say they can be used for decades if properly maintained, and are intended for long-term service. It is hoped that several African countries will eventually benefit.

In 2010, Liu Yandong, the new Chinese vice premier, signed a memorandum to develop a portable hospital suitable for Africa.

The concept was subsequently developed at The Low Cost Health Programme Centre (LCHPC) at the Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology (SIAT), part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China's Ministry of Science and Technology has led and funded the project, so far to the tune of 14 million renminbi (US$2.2 million).

However, according to Zhou Shumin, director of LCHPC, the funding is not enough, and so the ministry has pledged to invest further.

Zhou says that container hospitals function in the same way as general hospitals - the only key difference is the size.

They are intended for use near sizeable settlements - at least a suburban village - and need a flat, open site more than 2,000 square metres in size as well as necessary infrastructure, including a power supply and tap water.

China has also developed 'container clinics', smaller versions with one to three containers.

According to Zhou, the container hospital needs at least four doctors to run, while the clinic needs one.

Ten African doctors were trained to use the hospitals and clinics last year as part of a trial. They will also be trained in the actual hospitals before use.

Medical student Wu Haili, from Gabon, says: "The fact that the hospital is easy to assemble, its low cost and its mobility all make it very suitable for under-developed areas in Africa".

"In Africa, some areas are short of basic health equipment, particularly in areas far away from big cities. The container hospital will provide them with the opportunity to see a doctor more quickly."

China plans to give hospitals and clinics to six African countries this year.

At the end of July, it plans to send two container hospitals to Cameroon and Namibia, followed by clinics to Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Egypt by the end of this year.

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