Google has developed an Ebola-proof tablet for use by health workers in Sierra Leone. It can resist the storms and high humidity of West Africa and can be dipped into antibacterial chlorine after use.
The tablet was designed after a doctor working in an Ebola treatment centre informed a colleague in London that he was having to shout patient details over a fence from inside the containment zone. Patient details could not be written on a piece of paper and given to the outside in case the paper became contaminated.
Designed by technology volunteers and Google, it can be used even wearing gloves and in storms and high humidity.
The touchscreen display can be operated even while wearing the large gloves of health workers. The tablet will never need to be removed from its housing as support for wireless charging through its protective housing eliminates the need to plug it in each day.
Google is working to open-source the unique product so that other developers can work on it too. The company thinks it could be used in the same way in outbreaks of other deadly diseases, allowing for the quick and easy storage of invaluable data on patients and symptoms.
The device has been tested at MSF treatment centres in Sierra Leone.
A charity hopes the technology – which is open-source – will be adapted for use in other difficult scenarios such as outbreaks of cholera.
Dr Eric Perakslis, from Harvard Medical School, works on separate global health innovation projects. He said: “A handful of companies are trying to find a technological solutions for the Ebola crisis.”
“But they face a lot of challenges such as unreliable electricity. This one addresses all the challenges at once.”
“And it will not just be useful for single patient encounters but for research on the virus too.”
Ganesh Shankar, product manager at Google, said: “I think this kind of partnership represents the future of how non-governmental organisations are going to integrate technology into the work they do.”
The tablet has waterproof casing at an “industrial level” according to Ivan Gayton, technology advisor at MSF.
It can be dunked in 0.5% chlorine solution which kills Ebola – if used on unprotected hands this strength of chlorine could cause chemical burns.
Sharp edges of the tablet were removed so that protective clothing would not be pierced.
Ebola is passed on through close contact with infected bodily fluids.
Even a single piece of paper leaving a high-risk zone poses a risk of passing on the infection, the charity says.
And health workers caring for these patients have to be encased in full protective suits with goggles and multiple layers of gloves, despite the soaring temperatures.
But dictating notes across a fence at the end of exhausting shifts while wearing masks was a “recipe for error”, MSF said.