Earlier this month, we were excited to travel down the road to Stanford University and see what innovative products and processes the Design for Extreme Affordability students have come up with to help prevent deaths and disabilities caused by severe burns in Nepal. As you may recall, the purpose of the ‘Extreme’ course is to design products and services that will change the lives of the world’s poorest citizens.
Three groups of students partnered with us to understand the devastating effect of untreated burns in the developing world. They worked with our staff here, and in March, six of the students traveled to Kathmandu to witness firsthand the challenges of treating severe burns in a developing country.
They also collaborated with Dr. Shankar Rai and his team at our Surgical Outreach Program there to develop ideas for critical, low-cost products and processes that could save lives and functionality – approaching the issue from three angles: the village level, health systems level and the operating room level.
The village-level team proposed The Ember Project, a referral hotline that can connect burn victims to local organizations that can help them, including ReSurge and other organizations that can address other aspects of the trauma of a burn injury.
In response to seeing a patient die from a 30-percent burn injury that could have been treated with proper supplies, the operating room-level team decided to focus on developing a low-cost method to create a skin bank for Dr. Rai’s hospital, which would be a first for a Nepali hospital. A skin bank would enable his team to save the lives of acute burn victims by preventing fatal infections.
The health systems team developed a prototype for a hand splint called HandHero, which is designed to facilitate recovery for patients after hand surgery and will cost less than $20.
“We learned [in Nepal] that lack of access to long-term physical therapy is one of the factors that result in permanent disability for burn survivors,” said Maria Langat, a member of the team.
The idea for HandHero came about after the students sat with Mohan Dangol, our hand therapist in Kathmandu, as he painstakingly created an expensive custom splint for a young girl named Bishnu. Her father had made a huge financial sacrifice to bring her to Kathmandu from a village in Western Nepal.
“We realized that we had an opportunity to allow Mohan to reach a lot more people by creating an affordable hand splint that burn survivors like Bishnu could use and adjust at home with remote support from a physical therapist,” Maria said.
The Way Forward
In the past, numerous products and services developed by students in the course have gone on to be manufactured and implemented in the world’s poorest countries. This summer, the students plan to continue refining their products and processes, and they hope to return to Nepal to run a pilot test and see how well they work.
“Many of the supplies needed to effectively treat severe burns are currently cost prohibitive in places like Nepal,” said Joe Lippi, ReSurge’s director of medical programs and impact. “The innovations these students are developing hold great promise for addressing this neglected health issue and ultimately for improving health outcomes.”
Stay tuned for updates from the pilot projects in Nepal later this summer!