MSF Uses Virtual Reality to Build Better HospitalsMédecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders to the English-speaking world, is a global organization that provides professional medical care wherever poverty, war, disasters or otherwise raise a need. According to the group’s International Activity Report, 6.3 million donors funded 11.2 million outpatient consultations, 750,000 inpatients’ treatment and more than 100,000 major surgical interventions in 2018 alone. MSF consistently achieves a huge global impact. While generous donors and devoted staff are part of this success, the organization also improves its operations to ensure progress. MSF takes every opportunity to evolve and utilize resources more efficiently. Most recently, MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals.

Building Innovation

One such evolution began back in November 2013 when Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines. After providing several weeks of emergency support from tent hospitals, MSF determined the municipality of Guiuan needed a more permanent solution. Plans to build a transitional hospital quickly began, and four months later, the organization completed the sturdier facility for use.

Two years later, MSF found an opportunity for innovation. With the help of design firm Pyxis, MSF’s technical team built a 3D printed model of the Guiuan hospital. Designers then turned the same 3D layout into an interactive virtual landscape, which was explorable through a virtual reality (VR) headset. But why should MSF redesign plans for an already built hospital?

Benefits of Creating a 3D Printed Model

These steps were not just for novelty; they served as a proof-of-concept for an innovative approach to the construction process. Since then, MSF has used this innovative virtual reality technology to build better hospitals. The tangible nature of the 3D printed model promotes a more user-friendly design stage. Planners can clearly determine if the facility’s design suits the environment it will serve.

On a more granular level, doctors can also optimize the facility’s layout before people start laying the foundation. The most immersive VR model supports this aspect. Is the main corridor wide enough to accommodate high traffic? Are the sterile processing rooms, scrub sinks and operating rooms in a useful order, or would doctors have to retrace their steps in situations where seconds matter? These details are crucial to the efficiency of a finished hospital.

The worst crises also benefit from the new approach. For example, the World Health Organization named the current Ebola virus outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a global health emergency, and the Ebola outbreaks require a quick response and reliable facilities. In this case, the best health care facility is the one that is operable first. Virtual reality expedites the construction process. Designers can create and build more nuanced plans potentially months faster than with traditional blueprints.

MSF uses virtual reality to build better hospitals by improving and expediting the construction process. VR landscapes and 3D plans are easier to visualize, edit and share amongst MSF staff around the world. Better yet, adopting VR technology now only makes it easier for designers to utilize future innovations. CAVE-CAD software, for example, is one such advancement that would allow architects to make changes to VR schematics while still inside the virtual environment. One thing is for sure; Médecins Sans Frontières continues to receive positive attention for the care it provides. As for hospitals, if MSF builds it, those who need it will come.

– Molly Power
Photo: Flickr

Virtual Reality Field Trips to Pakistan
Schools from around the world are giving their students the opportunity to take virtual reality field trips to Pakistan.

Two Austin-based companies, PenPal Schools and Chocolate Milk & Donuts, partnered together to create global interactions through virtual reality. PenPal Schools connects over 100,000 students in 170 countries. Its Pakistan virtual field trip program has connected 2,000 students from 17 different countries.

PenPal School organized participating students into small groups, often made of one Pakistani student and three students from different countries. Through virtual reality, Pakistani students acted as local guides to the other students. The groups then worked on assignments and projects that showcased what they learned about the country.

The virtual reality field trips to Pakistan mainly take place in the city of Lahore. Using a virtual reality headset and  videos with 360-degree views, students learn about the history and culture of Pakistan. Pakistani history, sports, education and rising artists are some of areas students get to explore.

The virtual reality field trips to Pakistan aim to provide connections with Pakistani people that were not available before. They are intended to give children from around the world the opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of the country and its people.

The program hopes these connections will dispel misconceptions about the people of Pakistan, especially following the 2017 U.S. travel ban of citizens from some Muslim countries. “It’s more important than ever to build understanding and eliminate fear,” says Founder of PenPal Schools, Joe Troyen.

The field trips illustrate a perspective of Pakistan that is not often shown. Pakistan is routinely portrayed in the media as dangerous and unstable. PenPal Schools personalizes Pakistan, giving voice to its citizens and showing the country’s beauty.

Following the success of the virtual reality field trips to Pakistan, PenPal Schools is hoping to develop other virtual reality field trips. The company want to create even more opportunities for students to experience meaningful connections with people from all corners of the global community.

Cortney Rowe

Photo: Flickr

Virtual Reality Can Affect Global Poverty
Although the technology of virtual reality (VR) is still in its infancy, it is steadily growing more advanced and more easily available to the public. VR is opening up all kinds of new opportunities and experiences, and they’re not just limited to video games – people around the world are finding that virtual reality can affect global poverty.

VR has made a strong impact in such fields as healthcare, manufacturing and even insurance. Many around the world see no reason why these advances shouldn’t also address humanitarian needs.

Researchers have found that virtual reality is incredibly powerful at building the feeling of empathy in users, which gives it obvious appeal to those in the non-profit world. With its ability to connect users to other people, the technology can make unprecedented strides in shining a light on the plight of millions.

According to Jeremy Bailenson of Stanford University, “Virtual reality transforms relationships that tend to be abstract to become visceral. Our research has shown that making this cause and effect relationship perceptual, as opposed to theoretical, changes consumer and other behaviors more than other interventions.”

Some non-profit organizations are now taking advantage of the fact that virtual reality can affect global poverty. HOPE International has found success by reaching out to potential donors with the technology by showing them exactly what problems their donations will be addressing. Boosted levels of empathy generate more contributions, helping to make a significant dent in global need.

Another organization, Trickle Up, combats poverty in some of the world’s poorest countries also by using virtual reality. By introducing VR experiences to donors at a fundraising gala, the organization was able to connect supporters to a local shop owner in Guatemala whose business would benefit from their donations. Trickle Up’s Communications Officer, Tyler McClelland, noted that having VR at the event increased interest and made guests more excited about the cause.

Some have taken the involvement of virtual reality in the humanitarian world to an even more interesting level. Chris Milk of UNICEF partnered with Samsung in 2015 to create Clouds Over Sidra, a virtual reality film that follows a 12-year old girl, Sidra, through her day-to-day life in the Syrian refugee camp of Za’atari in Jordan. Winner of the 2015 Doc/Fest Award, the film breaks barriers in the documentary world, making the VR viewer an interactive participant.

While there is much time and research yet to spend on the technology, early success strongly indicates that virtual reality can affect global poverty. It has the power to break down walls and, as the creator of Clouds Over Sidra said, it “connects humans to other humans in a profound way I’ve never before seen in any other form of media, and it can change people’s perception of each other. That is why I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.”

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr