Containers against coronavirus: mobile healthcare in Tunisia

A Tunisian team is converting shipping containers into mobile health centres to take healthcare out to remote regions.

‘Thinking outside the box’ is usually a good way of solving problems, but Mahmoud Belghith is ‘thinking inside the box’ instead to help tackle coronavirus in Tunisia. For the past three years, the 30-year-old and his company have been recycling ‘smartbox’ shipping containers. The modular containers can be converted into mobile police stations, performance spaces and temporary event kitchens, among other things. The challenges of treating coronavirus patients led Belghith to come up with the idea of using them to create mobile health centres.

As he explains, ‘In a medical emergency, speed is of the essence. And our mobile hospitals mean we can create treatment units very quickly and be flexible in getting them to the places where the need is greatest.’ The containers don’t need elaborate foundations, have their own solar-powered electrical supply and can be transported by lorry to remote regions of the country.

With his 14-strong team, Belghith devised a concept to use containers for medical purposes. Tunisia’s Digital Centre provided support with developing the concept. The Centre was set up by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) and the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) Special Initiative on Training and Job Creation.

A treatment centre, a respiratory unit, an intensive care unit, an outpatient clinic and a pharmacy – the modular ‘smartboxes’ can be combined flexibly to build an entire mobile hospital. Belghith’s team of architects, engineers and medical advisors have also equipped the ‘smartboxes’ with air filters and a low-pressure system to keep medical staff safe. There has been a positive response to his ‘smartbox’ idea, in particular from public bodies and governments that have had to ramp up their medical capacity rapidly and flexibly to tackle coronavirus. Belghith adds, ‘We’ve had enquiries from a number of African countries, including Burkina Faso, Congo and Djibouti.’

The ‘smartbox’ is one of more than a dozen projects developed with the support of the Digital Centre in Tunisia. GIZ has been working on behalf of BMZ to expand the Centre since late 2019. This wide-ranging programme develops digital innovations for companies and public institutions.

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