The US$140,000 mobile hospitals helping India fight Covid-19: ‘all you need is electricity and water’
- Units designed by Modulus Housing come in three different sizes that can be packed onto the back of a truck and transported to the areas worst affected
- India has recorded nearly 30 million Covid-19 infections yet restrictions have begun to ease in parts of the country
Instead, the 25-year-old civil engineer was fine-tuning a solution: collapsible, portable hospitals that can be transported by trucks and set up within days to offer extra capacity as “hospital extensions”.
Ravichandran was a second-year student at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras when he started thinking about portable housing solutions, particularly after the 2015 floods in Chennai left many people homeless.
“You need to provide shelter at once in an emergency,” he said. “If, when the emergency is over, these homes are not used, they are in danger of becoming non-performing assets so the key is to be able to move them easily to wherever they are needed.
“In India, this means being able to transport them on narrow roads and on small vehicles. That’s why we made them foldable and collapsible.”
Ravichandran and a classmate co-founded Modulus Housing and in 2019 began selling portable homes to state governments before expanding to small clinics, dressing rooms, labs and classrooms.
Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
“We realised that building hospitals in areas takes far too long to be of any use in a pandemic,” he said. “The need is immediate but hospitals can take years. It can take a year just to get the approvals. A prefabricated hospital that was ready to assemble and ready to use seemed a perfect solution for the pandemic.”
Modulus Housing makes three sizes of hospitals, called MediCABS, with 20, 50 or 100 beds. The 20-bed hospital can be assembled in two days by four people while the 100-bed hospital takes seven days. They are equipped with medical devices, life support equipment, ICUs, bathrooms, lights and air conditioners.
“All you do once you have set it up is turn on the electricity and water supply and you are ready to take patients,” Ravichandran said.
The 50-bed hospital costs 10.3 million rupees (US$140,000). A bed in a private hospital costs about 4,000 rupees per day but a MediCAB bed costs just 600 rupees per day.
India has recorded nearly 30 million Covid-19 infections yet restrictions have begun to ease in parts of the country.
On June 14, all New Delhi’s shops and malls reopened although bars, gyms, salons, cinemas and parks remained shut.
Some businesses in Tamil Nadu were allowed to bring back 50 per cent of employees and salons and liquor shops reopened. Bus services remain suspended until June 21.
In Bangalore, the capital of Karnataka state, authorities allowed the partial reopening of businesses, although strict night and weekend curfews remained in place.
From June 7, the state of Maharashtra allowed malls, cinemas, restaurants and offices to open regularly in districts where the infection rate has fallen below 5 per cent.
The Gujarat government has eased restrictions on commercial activities, allowing shops in 36 cities to remain open longer.
In Odisha state, lockdowns have been eased in three districts while the southern state of Tamil Nadu now allows grocery retailers to open for most of the day and offices to operate with 30 per cent capacity.
The Taj Mahal has also reopened to tourists as India seeks to revive its economy. The 17th-century mausoleum was closed in early April as India introduced strict lockdown measures.
As restrictions have been lifted in big cities, migrant workers have begun returning from the countryside. In Bangalore, local media reported large crowds of workers at railway stations.
“Unfortunately, citizens equate the government’s response to reopening, as a victory,” said Dr Vishal Rao, a member of the expert committee on Karnataka’s Covid-19 task force.
Dr Vinod Shah, an ENT surgeon in Surat, Gujarat, was overwhelmed a few weeks ago by patients with bacterial infections while recovering from Covid-19. He welcomed the option of mobile “hospital extensions”, provided they can be properly implemented.
He asked: “Where are the extra nurses and doctors for these mobile hospitals going to come from?”
The government has indicated that portable hospitals will be staffed with final-year medical and nursing students. In the meantime, Ravichandran and his team are pleased to be rolling out their first units.
“After everything we have seen in the pandemic, it feels good to be making a contribution to preventing suffering,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters