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.