A talking sterilization system

An OttoClave prototype. Photo by: OttoClave

They don’t always grab headlines: infections due to contaminated surgical instruments. But a team of graduate students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is putting the spotlight on this oft-neglected problem — using a pressure cooker and a talking device.

OttoClave is a sterilization system designed for rural health clinics in developing countries. It functions much like other autoclave devices, such as stovetops, but comes with a cycle monitor that provides verbal instructions on the sterilization process, alerting health workers when sterilization is complete.

The monitor runs on two rechargeable AA batteries. But CEO Hallie Cho said the team is in talks with solar manufacturers to check the feasibility of using renewable energy to power the device. This ensures the monitor will continue to function in areas with unreliable access to electricity. The pressure cooker, meanwhile, can work with any heat source.

The device can be programmed to speak in various languages. The first batch of OttoClaves will be available in three different languages: English, Nepali and Hindi. Prototypes were introduced in Nepal in 2011 and are planned to be piloted in India next year.

As the system doesn’t require constant supervision, health workers can attend to other tasks while making sure surgical tools — scalpels, forceps and others — are clean and free from bacteria.

A number of nonprofits have already shown interest, Cho told Devex in an interview. The company is also engaging with country health ministries, such as the one in Nepal. The system is initially priced at $250, but nongovernmental organizations could avail a discounted rate of $150 if they preorder. They can also opt to just buy the monitor.

“There could be a high-volume discount once we are in full retail,” Director of Communications Mark Maples said in an email.

The team has won several grants from various innovation challenges, including the MITIDEAS Global Challenge, where they won twice — in 2011 and 2012. And now, they are among the finalists of the James Dyson Award.

Not everyone knows how to operate an autoclave, but a number of people make use of pressure cooker to cook rice, Maples said. “We’re taking advantage of this embedded knowledge to make autoclaving a simpler task.”

The team will be conducting a medical study in November, which will last for six months, to further quantify the “positive health outcomes” from using OttoClave.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.