A primary health care delivery system

The U.S. Government and humanitarian aid organizations continue to report a critical shortcoming in the ability to provide quality medical care to medically under-served and disaster-stricken areas. As demonstrated by the traumatic effects of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, 2010’s Haitian earthquake, and 2014’s Ebola outbreak, it is difficult to provide health care to impoverished areas.

Developing nations frequently lack medical clinics, especially in the poorest and rural areas. Building clinics is costly and time consuming. Where natural disasters occur, providing immediate health care is hampered by a lack of facilities and poor communications.

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Fortunately, Laurie Garrett, a Senior Fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations, has theorized a feasible solution to overcome these challenges. She proposed in the early 2000s using shipping containers as mobile medical clinics (MMCs). Unlike brick and mortar clinics, shipping containers can be quickly and inexpensively converted into clinics and transported wherever and whenever necessary. MMCs can provide permanent health care delivery in impoverished or rural areas for a fraction of what it would cost to build a normal clinic. They can also be temporarily deployed in disaster-stricken areas. In areas where containers are permanently placed, the clinics are operated as a small franchised business. Clinic owners oversee all operational functions of their business, including hiring medical staff.

In 2006, architecture and engineering faculty and students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute constructed a prototype MMC. Building the prototype illuminated the importance of keeping clinic designs simple and efficient. Drawing on this early work, Primary Mobile Med International (PMMI) has designed clinics to be easily produced, quickly deployed, and easily maintained in distressed and/or impoverished areas.

The need to deliver quality medical care to victims of natural disasters and people living in impoverished nations is overwhelming. Garrett, writing in the September/October 2015 issue of Foreign Affairs, states that Liberia has only two doctors for every 100,000 Liberians and only 0.8 hospital beds for every 1,000 Liberians. Even wealthy nations like the U.S. have needed quickly deployable health care. In 2005, an overwhelmed FEMA incapable of handling the aftermath of Katrina contacted Garrett requesting the immediate deployment of 100 MMCs to the Gulf area. She had to pass on the opportunity. Also, a second round of USG requests followed the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. Having no MMC units available, the opportunity was again lost. While it is unfortunate that PMMI and Garrett did not begin working together sooner, PMMI is pleased to now have the opportunity make Laurie’s vision a reality. Our highly flexible clinics can be used for many different applications. These include diagnosis and treatment of infectious and non-communicable diseases, disaster relief, and health education. Each clinic is equipped with an advanced digital health-care data collection system.

PMMI is fulfilling its mission of providing low-cost, high-impact mobile medical facilities, equipment, and supplies to qualified on-scene health-care workers in both medically underserved and disaster-stricken areas.

To learn about how our first clinic owner, Dr. Edith Clarke, is using her MMCs to provide primary health care to people in Ghana, Africa, visit the Our Projects page. 

And departing, they went about from village to village,
preaching the Gospel and restoring the afflicted to health everywhere
— Luke 9:6