Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, an international task force of designers, engineers, medical professionals, and military experts have joined forces to work on CURA, an open-source project aimed at capacity building in Intensive Care Units (ICU). The first prototype of CURA, whose name stands for Connected Units for Respiratory Ailments (and also “cure” in Latin), was built in Milan, Italy — with the sponsorship of European bank UniCredit. It uses repurposed shipping containers to create plug-in biocontainment pods that can be quickly deployed in cities around the world, promptly responding to the shortage of ICU space in hospitals and the spread of the disease.
CURA is a compact Intensive Care pod for patients with respiratory infections, hosted in a 20-foot intermodal container with biocontainment (thanks to negative pressure). Each unit works autonomously and can be shipped anywhere. Individual pods can also be connected with an inflatable structure to create multiple modular configurations — from 4 beds to over 40 — which can be deployed in just a few hours. Some pods can be placed in proximity to a hospital (e.g. in parking lots) to expand the ICU capacity, while others could be used to create self-standing field hospitals of varying sizes.
CURA aims to improve the efficiency of existing solutions in the design of field hospitals, tailoring them to the pandemic when regular hospitals struggle to increase their ICU capacity to admit a growing number of patients.
The response to the emergency in China and Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic has been to set up makeshift emergency hospitals such as tents or build new prefabricated wards with biocontainment. While the latter option is time- and resource-intensive, the former one exposes medical professionals to a higher risk of contamination and adds operational strain — especially in the long run.
Learning from both approaches, CURA strives to be as fast to mount as a hospital tent, but as safe as a hospital’s isolation ward to work in — thanks to biocontainment (an extractor creates indoor negative pressure, complying with the standards of Airborne Infection Isolation Rooms – AIIRs). It follows the standards for COVID-19 hospitals issued by the Chinese authorities while speeding up execution.
Each CURA pod would contain all the medical equipment needed for two intensive-care patients — including ventilators and intravenous fluids stands. All units can be connected by an inflatable corridor. The first CURA pod was built for test at a hospital in Milan, Italy.
CURA pods are being conceived as a ready-to-use solution. Shipping containers can easily be moved through different modes of transport — from ship to rail to truck — and re-used in different parts of the world, adapting to the needs and capacity of the local healthcare infrastructure.
CURA is developed in an open-source, non-for-profit framework and solicits suggestions and improvements.
The first CURA unit — whose open-source design has been initiated by an international task force of architects, engineers, doctors, military experts and NGOs and is open to further contributions — was built in Milan, Italy, with the sponsorship of UniCredit.
If coronavirus has taught us something it's that we should be better prepared for the next pandemic. Cause sooner or later a new virus will emerge potentially (again) causing havoc around the world. Building new hospitals is expensive and not justified everywhere. In that sense, a savvy (local) politician could propose procuring CURA units and have them stored somewhere, just in case. Cause when another pandemic strikes, it will be hard to get to these units. As they say it, better safe than sorry.
Selling CORA Pods to the local government could be a profitable venture. Considering that the design is open-source, the cost of procurement is lower. Nevertheless, those units should still have to be equipped with the proper gear in order to serve their purpose when the next virus emerges — cause sooner or later that will happen, and smart cities will want to be prepared. This should be your main pitch — these pods will help the city be prepared for the next catastrophe at a fraction of the cost (compared to expanding existing or building new ICUs).