As Haiti struggles along the road to recovery from February’s catastrophic earthquake, many survivors are still dealing with a deadly problem: festering wounds. With limited access to hospitals and traditional treatment equipment being heavy and costly, assistance can’t come fast enough.

But a $3 piece of portable plastic may save the most lives, thanks to MIT graduate student Danielle Zurovcik. The negative-pressure device is incredibly simple: bellows pump through a plastic tube that acts as a vacuum to draw bacteria and fluids out of wounds and accelerate healing by increasing blood flow.
 
The device, which weighs half a pound and can be charged with a hand pump, reduces the need to change bandages from up to three times per day to just once every few days. Similar devices used in hospitals typically weigh 5 to 10 pounds, require an energy source and cost about $100 a day to rent.

Zurovcik and her team used the invention to treat a variety of wounds including amputations, open tissue wounds, open fractures and bedsores in paralyzed patients. Now back from the relief mission, she’s currently working on some improvements and planning a larger test in Rwanda.

"We learned that family members are interested in being trained and motivated to keep the device charged because they saw the benefits for their loved ones," Zurovcik’s collaborator and trauma surgeon Robert Riviello told Technology Review.

"They were tremendously reliable. We saw patients twice a day, but it became clear that we could come back days later and the device would still be charged."