A Health Clinic Inside A Shipping Container, So Doctors Can Move To Where People Are Sick

In Southeast Asia, there’s only one doctor on average for every 4,000 people. This cheap, mobile structure could help that one doctor get to more of them.

In poor and remote regions of the world, millions of people suffer for want of basic health care. In parts of Southeast Asia, for instance, access to doctors is so difficult (1 physician per 4,000 people) that malaria goes untreated, and diseases like diabetes become worse problems than they need to be.


That’s why a team of designers have created a mobile clinic that’s built to keep costs low, so health providers can reach more people and not have to invest in land or infrastructure to do so. Its price could be as little as $15,000 once it’s rolled out in rural Cambodia, according to its creators.

Building Trust International, a UK non-profit, was asked by a hospital in Cambodia to develop a small medical dispensary because its main site was in danger of being redeveloped. BTI organized a design competition, and it received more than 200 entries, according to co-founder Louise Cole. The winner is a three-person team from the U.S.

The 164-foot-long clinic is repurposed from a shipping container and sits on a flatbed truck. Inside are two small exam rooms, a kitchen, bathroom and storage area, and one big treatment room. The whole unit is pre-assembled before transportation, with the large outside shaded porch and ramp constructed on-site by village workers using local materials. As well as delivering treatment, the clinic is also meant for education and community activities.

“The idea is not that this clinic will provide an answer to all of the region’s health needs, but it will be a start to that process,” says Jhanéa Williams, who designed the clinic with Patrick Morgan and Simon Morgan. “By introducing medicine and techniques, you can slowly start to build a workforce and start the process of investing in land and more permanent structures.”

Power comes from solar panels on the roof, but the aim is to minimize the need for electricity (there are no cooling or heating systems, for instance). The exam rooms are ventilated naturally by keeping air flowing through holes punched in the side. When privacy isn’t an issue, doctors can tend to patients outside, which “reduces the amount of space that needs to be lit or ventilated,” Williams says.

The point is flexibility. The clinic is modular, so you can add more units for bigger villages. And it’s designed to stay in place for how ever long health providers and the population need it: anywhere from five days to five years.


Williams estimates the clinic costs between $15,000 and $30,000, though BTI hopes donations will reduce the amount it needs to spend. “The next few months will be spent with health providers, working to define the need and best allocation of resources,” she says. “After that, they will spend a few months building it, and we should see a pilot project on the ground by Christmas.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.