At some point during the COVID pandemic, you might have received healthcare services in an improbable location. The unprecedented demand for testing and treatment forced medical pros to set up makeshift clinics in all sorts of unlikely places, from parking garages to county fairgrounds, NBA arenas, MASH-style tents, converted Trailways buses, even tricked-out shipping containers.
Despite their lack of conventional amenities, these improvised facilities worked. Without them, millions of people who sought COVID care couldn’t have gotten it.
The same premise is driving a new initiative to make prosthetic care more readily available to more amputees. The Mission Gait Foundation and its international partner, Walking Free, have converted a 40-foot shipping container into a state-of-the-art prosthetic clinic. The unit will open late this year in the Solomon Islands, a South Pacific nation with virtually no access to prosthetic care.
Although shipping-box clinics became fairly common during COVID, they aren’t really that new. They’ve been around for decades, offering targeted health services of varying types. They’ve even hosted O&P clinics a handful of times over the years, so the Mission Gait/Walking Free facility won’t be the first of its kind. However, it will arguably be the best.
“When this has been done in the past, they always built the clinic on site,” says Mission Gait official Carolyn Lawrence. “The clinics were always connected to a hospital or rehab facility, and they would be built up gradually as they went along. We’re actually putting a complete prosthetic lab together inside a shipping container in the United States before we ship it.”
With advance planning and integrated design, the Mission Gait clinic will be equipped to support a high caliber of care. The architectural challenge fell to Sheila Gunst, an expert at packing 21st-century living standards into compact spaces. Gunst owns Rustic Global, a custom-home builder that turns shipping containers into residences that economize on cost but not on comfort. She figured out how to organize the Mission Gait space to accommodate exam rooms, a fabrication lab, storage areas, and a gait clinic.
The clinic will make a huge impact on the Solomons, whose labor-intensive economy and high incidence of diabetes result in an above-average rate of limb loss. After the recent closure of the small nation’s only O&P clinic, amputees have had absolutely no access to prosthetic care.
To get more information or to support the Mission Gait/Walking Free project (it’s funded entirely through donations), visit missiongait.org.
The Solomon Islands prosthetic clinic will be one of the few ever housed in a shipping container, but it won’t be the first. Here are some other places the idea has been tried.
Nicaragua and the Philippines: The Prosthetics Outreach Foundation opened clinics in 20-foot containers (half the size of the Solomon structures) in both nations in 1989.
Haiti: After a devastating earthquake in 2010, humanitarian aid workers delivered prosthetic care from a specially outfitted shipping container.
Ivory Coast: East Point Prosthetics in Kinston, NC, tricked out a shipping container and sent it to this West African nation in 2017.