A Shampoo Bottle Is Saving the Lives of Children with Pneumonia


One doctor in Bangladesh has created a low-cost continuous positive airway pressure device out of an empty shampoo bottle; a study finds that the device cut pneumonia mortality rates by 75%.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reports that pneumonia claims the lives of over 2 million children under 5 each year, making it the largest killer of children worldwide. In developed countries, health care providers can treat the infection with medicine and put children on a ventilator if they need oxygen assistance. However, in underdeveloped countries such as Bangladesh, these resources are not always available.

Luckily, one inspired Bangladesh doctor, working in the pediatric department of the Sylhet Medical College Hospital, took action and created a device made out of a discarded shampoo bottle, according to BBC News. A 2-year study on the device, published in The Lancet, found that it could cut pneumonia mortality rates by a whopping 75%.

What inspired Mohammod Jobayer Chisti, MD, to create such a lifesaving device? “Three children died in front of my eyes. Nothing was working,” said Dr. Christi in a BBC Innovators video. “I was so helpless that I cried that night. Then, I promised myself that night that I would do something in my life to curb this. But I didn’t know that day, that night, how it could be done.”

While working in Australia, Dr. Chisti saw a machine that used continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) to prevent the lungs from collapsing. The machine helped sick individuals absorb enough oxygen to breathe. The machine is expensive, though, and so Dr. Chisti set about creating a low-cost bubble CPAP device.

When he traveled back to Bangladesh, Dr. Christi took a plastic bottle from the intensive care unit and filled it with water. He then proceeded to cut an oxygen supply tube, sealing up one side and inserted the other side into the water.

“The children inhale the oxygen from a tank and exhale through a tube which is inserted into a bottle of water creating back pressure and bubbles,” Dr. Chisti explained. The bubbles cause enough pressure that small air sacs in the lungs open, according to the press release.

Dr. Chisti and his colleagues tested the device in 4 or 5 patients and their results were favorable. “Within a few hours, the children were improving. The children recovered within a day,” he said.

For the 2-year study, Dr. Chisti and colleagues wrote that they sought to assess if the CPAP device was capable of improving patient outcomes in comparison with “standard low-flow and high-flow oxygen therapies.” Between August 4, 2011 and July 17, 2013, they enrolled a total of 225 children into testing. The children were randomly assigned into 3 groups: 79 of the children (35%) received oxygen therapy via the CPAP device, 67 children (30%) received low-flow oxygen therapy, and 79 children (35%) of the children received high-flow oxygen therapy.

According to the study results, the investigators found that “significantly fewer children in the bubble CPAP group had treatment failure than in the low-flow oxygen therapy group” and the device cut mortality rates by 75%.

Perhaps more exciting is the fact that whereas traditional ventilators can cost up to $15,000, the bubble CPAP device cost $1.25, making it ideal for use in underdeveloped countries. According to BBC, the device can also help hospitals save money on their oxygen bill, cutting costs from $30,000 a year to $6,000.

The device has already helped 600 children.

“We can conclude that treating patients with severe pneumonia [with this bubble CPAP device] can reduce mortality,” said Dr. ARM Luthful Kabir, professor of pediatrics at Ad-din Women’s Medical College.

“Use of bubble CPAP oxygen therapy could have a large effect in hospitals in developing countries where the only respiratory support for severe childhood pneumonia and hypoxemia is low-flow oxygen therapy,” the study authors concluded. However, “further research is needed to test the feasibility of scaling up bubble CPAP in district hospitals and to improve bubble CPAP delivery technology.”

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