Container as medical unit on supply ship | Polarjournal
The container does not look very spectacular from the outside. But inside, the unit turns out to be a real space miracle and offers doctors and medical staff extensive diagnostic and treatment options.

Medical care in Antarctica is a real challenge, not just since the COVID crisis. In addition to the stations, it is also the research and supply ships that repeatedly come to the limit when it comes to the health care of the people on board. It is true that virtually all ships have an infirmary and a medically trained person on board. But the possibilities for treatment after accidents and illnesses are limited, also due to the space. Now the Australian Antarctic Division has put together an idea and converted a 20-foot container into a medical unit with far more options for diagnosis and treatment. It is true that virtually all ships have an infirmary and a medically trained person on board.

The container will be used on the replacement ship of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), the MPV Everest for the coming time. The unit in the 15-year-old container, simply called the Containerised Medical Facility (CMF), is a real lifesaver on board a ship. Because all the necessary parts for emergency surgery, including an anaesthesia machine, are installed inside. Also ventilation, defibrillation and cardiovascular monitoring and even an X-ray apparatus including observation and evaluation are included. “A lot of ships don’t have all the equipment we require as standard,” explains Dr. Clive Strauss, head of the AAD’s medical department. “So we realised that to continue to deliver our standards of medical care, we needed to be self-sufficient. It’s a bit cramped for surgery, but it really is life and limb saving.”

The inside of the container is equipped in such a way that surgical procedures and X-rays can also be taken. More serious cases can also be dealt with on the nearly 12 square metres. Dr Clive Strauss (pictured) is the Acting Chief Medical Officer at AAD. Photo: Wendy Pyper / AAD

“This facility can withstand extreme temperatures and blizzards, at sea or on land.”

Dr. Clive Strauss, Head of Medicine AAD

In total, the container has the same equipment as Australia’s Antarctic stations. Because it is extremely important for the AAD that emergencies can also be adequately treated and, if necessary, emergency surgeries can also be carried out. For this purpose, all necessary equipment is available, also for hygiene. A hot water tank, a separate air filtration system with HEPA filters and a small autoclave for sterilizing surgical cutlery are included. The anaesthesia machine works without electricity, for the remaining machines, including the digital X-ray machine, an emergency generator is available if the normal power supply fails. “This facility can withstand extreme temperatures and blizzards, at sea or on land. It can be deployed in an emergency if we lose critical medical infrastructure on one of our Antarctic stations,” explains Dr Strauss. ““Our specialist consultants know what our doctors can do and understand the paradigm of remote medicine.”

The MPV Everest is the replacement ship of the AAD until the new icebreaker the RV Nuyina is completed. The delivery of Australia’s prestige project has been postponed by the COVID crisis. The replacement comes from a Dutch company and is ice-strengthened. Photo: Maritime Construction Services

The container unit is a solution to the difficulties of medical care on board a ship. However, the AAD is working on the development of a new, even better equipped unit. But until then, she will still be doing her job here. The CMF will be deployed on the AAD’s replacement ship, the MPV Everest. This nearly 140-metre long multifunctional ship from a Dutch company had to be chartered by the AAD after the old icebreaker Aurora Australis was put out of service in January and was to be replaced by the prestige ship RV Nuyina. But the COVID pandemic put Australia through the bill and delayed the delivery of the new icebreaker. The new ship is ice-strengthened up to a thickness of 1 meter and can accommodate up to 100 passengers. In addition to a helicopter, 96 containers can also be accommodated. One of them will save lives in the future.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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