EPFL reveals new suit for healthcare workers

Researchers at Lausanne’s technology institute EPFL have developed a reusable protective suit for medical staff working with infectious diseases such as Ebola in hot climates.

EPFL reveals new suit for healthcare workers
The new suit should be cheaper and more confortable than current models. Photo: Alain Herzog/EPFL

The hermetically sealed suit, developed by EPFL with partners including the University of Geneva and Medicine Sans Frontières, is designed to address problems discovered during the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which killed 11,000 people over two years.

Ill-adapted for tropical countries, the suits worn by health professionals during the outbreak were too hot, expensive and had to be thrown away after one use, EPFL said in a statement.

“When you dress to enter the contaminated zone, you have to put on around 10 different layers,” said Laurent Kaiser, who works at Geneva’s university hospital HUG and is a professor at the University of Geneva medical school.

“You also wear a diving mask that quickly fogs up, surgical gloves and thick aprons. Not to mention that after an hour of sweating in the red zone in your plastic suit your boots are full of water.”

In addition, most protective gear of this type  can only be used once.

“At the treatment centres, hundreds of contaminated suits were destroyed every day, tens of thousands per quarter, despite the cost and all the environmental risks,” Matthieu Gani, project manager for the new suit, said in a statement.

Produced by Sf Tech, a Swiss company that makes drysuits for divers, the new, more comfortable costume can be disinfected in a chlorine solution and reused over a period of three months, said EPFL.

It should also cost four times less than current outfits.

Additional funding is being sought to develop a sturdy ventilation system for the suit, it added.

A prototype is currently on display at the Geneva Health Forum, until April 21st, where visitors can try it on.

The World Health Organization finally declared West Africa free of Ebola in January this year, just over two years after the first case came to light.

More than 500 healthcare workers died during the outbreak.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I’m abroad?

Given how expensive health insurance premiums are in Switzerland, you may be tempted to suspend your policy while you are abroad. Is this possible?

Reader question: Can I put my Swiss health insurance on hold if I'm abroad?

Unlike the obligatory car insurance, which you can suspend temporarily by depositing your registration plates at the local motor vehicles office, rules pertaining to health insurance are much stricter.

As the Federal Office of Public Health explains it, “If you leave the country for a certain period to travel or study but do not take up residence abroad, you are still required to have [health] insurance in Switzerland”.

In other words, as long as you are a registered resident of Switzerland, regardless of your nationality or passport, you must keep your compulsory Swiss health insurance and pay your premiums. While you do this, you also remain covered against most medical emergencies while you travel.

However, rules are less stringent for supplemental health plans which can, in some cases, be put on hold, depending on the insurance provider, according to Switzerland’s Moneyland consumer website.

The only exception allowed for suspending the health insurance coverage is during a military or civil protection service which lasts more than 60 consecutive days.

“During these periods, the risks of illness and accident are covered by military insurance. Your health insurance provider will refund your premiums”, according to FOPH.

Under what circumstances can you cancel your Swiss health insurance?

Swiss law says you can cancel your insurance if you are moving abroad, either permanently for for a period exceeding three months.

If you do so, only claims for treatments given while you still lived in Switzerland will be paid by your insurance; any medical bills for treatment incurred after you officially leave will be denied.

These are the procedures for cancelling your compulsory health insurance if you leave the country under conditions mentioned above

To announce your departure abroad, you must send your insurance carrier a letter including your name, customer number or AVS/AHV number.

You must also include a certificate from your place of residence in Switzerland confirming that you have de-registered from your current address, as well as the date of your departure.

Note, however, that if your new destination is another Swiss community / canton, rather than a foreign country, your insurance can only be cancelled from the following calendar year and only if you present proof of having taken up a new policy with another company.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to register your address in Switzerland

You can find out more information about this process here

If you suspend your health insurance for less than six years, you can reactivate it at a later date with the same company when you return to Switzerland.

READ MORE : What you should know about your Swiss health insurance before you go abroad