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

Distrust Breeds EbolaMore than 1,100 people in Congo have died due to the recent Ebola outbreak. New treatment facilities, additional health personnel, improved vaccinations, and awareness campaigns should effectively be controlling the spread of Ebola. In spite of this, distrust is breeding Ebola as citizens reject available aid.

However, violence and distrust are increasing the risk of Ebola in Congo. This Ebola outbreak is the second worst outbreak in history and the solution is extremely complicated. Local militias in Congo have been burning down clinics and threatening physicians since January. Historically, residents have had to fear for their own safety and flee local armed extremist groups.

Distrust of Aid

Now, with the recent outbreak of Ebola, already vulnerable communities are experiencing a double layered threat of violence and disease. Reports show that the number of people infected with Ebola rises after violent conflicts. These areas are often unsafe for health workers, increasing the risk for Ebola to spread. Much of the violence pointed toward clinics and health workers stems from a widespread distrust of the government and foreign aid. This distrust is breeding Ebola, unnecessarily increasing the risk of contraction.

Despite these challenges, many international organizations are still trying to control the spread of Ebola in Congo and provide aid to those already infected. The World Health Organization reported 119 attacks on health workers. This has inspired international organizations to approach their methods for care differently. Aid workers are attempting to provide correct information to the population in Congo in order to debunk the propaganda being spread about the government and international aid. Often in public, health workers downplay their role to try and build trust within communities. The International Rescue Committee states, “Our staff has to lie about being doctors in order to treat people.”

Continued Support

The New Humanitarian is exploring why a deep distrust of government and foreign aid exists in Congo. Social media seems to be a large player in spreading misinformation. As such, 86 percent of adults surveyed in Beni and Butembo stated they do not believe that Ebola is real. Others believe Ebola is a method used by the government to destabilize certain areas. Similarly, many people fear treatment centers are making Ebola worse. Facebook and WhatsApp are major players in spreading this false information. The Ministry of Health has said they are working to monitor these pages and adapt local messages to make sure the truth is out there.

The control of Ebola is entirely possible through vaccines and prevention efforts. Instead, distrust is breeding Ebola in Congo as risk increases. Working to end this distrust and limit violence toward health workers through the spread of true information, is essential in stopping the spread of Ebola. The World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control and other health agencies and organizations are working to provide more aid to those affected by Ebola, hoping to prevent spread beyond the region.

Claire Bryan
Photo: Flickr

Pandemic Awareness in the WorldPandemics are a looming, dangerous situation that many in the world think about at some point in their life. According to the Washington Post, “Outbreaks of life-threatening infectious diseases are spreading faster and with more unpredictability than ever.” Pandemics have swept the world countless times, but it seems that most countries do not have a set plan for dealing with these emergencies.

Due to the increasing possibility of another pandemic, the World Bank has been bringing countries together to simulate pandemics and create pandemic awareness. As it turns out, the Ebola crisis prompted these actions by governments and intergovernmental bodies. Even though it is impossible to predict the next virus or pandemic, it is still key that countries and governments are ready to address them.

A simulation was run by the World Bank in October 2017 and people from any and all sectors that would be affected by or involved in a pandemic were invited. The simulation addressed the need to relay information to people quickly and accurately. Tourism is a reason why some countries will wait to announce their health emergency, but the simulation stressed that governments should not hold back information. Situations that arise are all a part of the pandemic awareness of a state. The simulation went over the costs and benefits of certain procedures for dealing with outbreaks and stressed coordination between sectors in order to better solve the problem.

It is also important to note that the United States is a significant actor in the area of global health. A recent report mentions that the unclear future of the United States’ involvement in helping fight pandemics is not a good sign for preparing the world for pandemics.

This is a change from the previous administration under Barack Obama. The Obama administration had been vocal and active about global health concerns, but the Trump administration has not made global health a priority or a focus.

The Trump administration has not given much concern to the issue of pandemics, and has failed to reach out to others to get collaboration going, according to the Washington Post. One could say that the United States is among the countries that are not prepared for a pandemic.

While no country is completely prepared for a pandemic at this time, it is still extremely important for countries to continue doing simulations and training themselves to be ready for emergencies such as these. International organizations like the World Bank and the WHO must continue with simulation and education programs to get countries prepared for pandemics, as well as promote pandemic awareness, that can impact not just one country, but the world as a whole.

Emilia Beuger

Photo: Flickr

Rebuilding Liberia After EbolaOn January 14, 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Liberia Ebola-free. As a result, the region of West Africa was officially free of the virus. Ebola was widespread throughout West Africa and cases occurred in the U.S. The country of Liberia was hit particularly hard by the virus between 2014 and 2016, with over 10,000 cases and a 45 percent fatality rate. Furthermore, since the outbreak, there have been many consequences. What has been done to address those consequences and rebuild Liberia after Ebola?

Both during, and after, the Ebola crisis, Liberian doctors worked with organizations like the WHO on the front lines to combat Ebola. In order to build-up medical infrastructure in Liberia, communities have engaged with nonprofit organizations. From the beginning of the crisis, Doctors Without Borders has been working with the government of Liberia and it continues to do so.

Ebola Treatment Units have been created to act as the first point of contact for people who are believed to have Ebola. The staff is trained and ready to respond to patients who show Ebola symptoms. Vaccines have also been distributed to centers across the country and they have been reported to be effective. People working in clinics have learned how to identify the disease and how to handle it.

The government of Liberia, with the support of the World Bank and United Nations, has created a plan for reconstructing the healthcare system, known as “Building a Resilient Health System.” Specifically, it plans to build new infrastructure and medical centers, which allows medical staff to care for various medical problems, not just outbreaks of the virus.

Psychiatrists and clinics are helping survivors and family members cope after the tragedy. The nonprofit More Than Me has worked to help reintegrate survivors back into the community as well.

It important to note that the chance of another outbreak is both likely and deadly in a developing country. This is due to a lack of understanding on how the virus is transmitted and how long it persists in one’s system. The Ebola virus still exists and could be transmitted by animals. This is why it is important for these organizations to continue outreach and awareness programs in Liberia, which teach Liberians about the disease.

While there is more to be done to rebuild healthcare systems in Liberia after Ebola, there is hope. According to an article by Al Jazeera, “Ebola has also united Liberians and brought greater trust into the health system, which is finally seen as the government priority.”

Liberia after Ebola is a changed Liberia. Families must deal with the social and economic fallout, while survivors and doctors must worry about when the virus may return. However, Liberians are better prepared to take on the virus in the future, thanks to the work of Liberian communities and medical organizations and nonprofits.

Emilia Beuger

Photo: Flickr