Inside the Inflatable Hospital That’s Saving Lives in Nepal
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
For a doctor doing surgery, the most important things to focus on (besides cutting in the right place) are being fast and clean. That’s tough enough to accomplish in a brick-and-mortar hospital—let alone a temporary operating room in the middle of a disaster zone. But that’s exactly what Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders, for you stubborn Anglophones) does best, and it’s what they’ve been doing for the past week in Nepal. A surprisingly critical part of that remote rescue? Blow-up tent hospitals.
Right now, the group is setting up their makeshift hospital in Gorkha, the rural epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the Himalayan nation ten days ago. Now, before you get too excited, these tents aren’t like the bouncy house you embarrassed yourself on at your nephew’s seventh birthday party. They’re just a little bit more advanced—and way bigger. Médecins Sans Frontières brought three to Nepal, each with over 1,000 square feet of floor space.
Each inflatable tent module arrives deflated, folded up like a body bag that could fit a dead ox (An ox that led a good life, because each bag is 2,600 pounds). It takes about 10 people to carry it from the plane to a truck, and then from the truck to the hospital site, which will have a solid floor made of asphalt or a special set of platforms. Working nonstop in shifts, teams—like those seen in the video below, showing a similar setup in Haiti—spend 24 to 48 hours constructing them. “You blow in *BBBRRR* and the tent is up!” says Michel Olivier Lacharité, logistics director for Médecins Sans Frontières’ operations in Nepal.
Within each tent, sheets of rubber are sewn between huge tubes that work like ribs. Those long, rectangular panels have grommets for hanging up room partitions, and once the structure is complete, volunteers can throw up partitions for different operating rooms, including heat or AC. (While the inflatable tents will mostly be operating rooms, inpatients will be housed in dozens of traditional canvas and pole tents on the grounds of the pop up-hospital.)
- Health Care