Bringing Health And Hope To Haiti

January 24, 2013
MASS Design Group is constructing a new cholera treatment center in Port-au-Prince, expected to open March 2013. Photo: MASS Design Group Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Following the 2010 earthquake, Haiti and its communities now face the devastating effects of cholera. MASS Design Group is constructing a new cholera treatment center in Port-au-Prince; Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff are helping to design prototypes of beds and chairs for future patients. Photo: Herman Miller Healthcare Haiti’s current cholera treatment center is a tent crowded with individuals ranging from children to seniors, with furnishings that do little to limit the spread of infection or preserve patient dignity. Photo: Herman Miller Healthcare Haiti’s current cholera treatment center. Photo: Herman Miller Healthcare Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff conducted an internal brainstorm session to design patient beds and chairs. Photo: Herman Miller Healthcare Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff’s patient bed prototype, which uses a butterfly-based design to enhance flexibility, mobility, and cleanliness while ensuring patient dignity and comfort. Photo: Herman Miller Healthcare To enhance Haiti’s economic health, Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff developed a furniture fabrication plan to train local workers. Photo: Herman Miller Healthcare
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Following the devastating earthquake in 2010, Haiti now faces another epidemic: cholera, a disease that’s infected more than 530,000 Haitian citizens. Spread through contaminated food or water, cholera kills more than 100,000 people each year despite the fact that, with proper treatment, its fatality rate can be less than 1 percent.

Recognizing the need to bring healthcare options to Haiti, MASS Design Group (MASS) is constructing a new cholera treatment center in Port-au-Prince for GHESKIO. To properly outfit this space, it enlisted our team at Herman Miller Healthcare and Nemschoff, a Herman Miller company, to help design prototypes of beds and chairs for future patients over the course of a week.

Our team of eight did as much preparation as possible to effectively deliver patient-focused solutions for cholera patients within very limited time constraints. Such research included studying the writings and experiences of Dr. Paul Farmer, humanitarian and co-founder of nonprofit healthcare organization Partners in Health, and educating ourselves on the culture and history of Haiti.

Once we landed in Haiti, we immediately toured Port-au-Prince and went to the national museum to get a sense of the country’s citizens and communities. Haitians, who are largely unemployed, were always friendly, with smiles received just as quickly as they were given.

After we got our bearings, we spent a day at the current cholera treatment center (CTC)--a tent--to get a firsthand view of the devastating disease.

From small children to seniors, the CTC was crowded with infected individuals. There, patients begin by sitting on a chair with a hole in it and a five-gallon bucket underneath. The healthcare team monitors their effluvia, and the sickest patients are moved to a cot with a hole cut out over a bucket. Unfortunately, the hole in the cot tends to get bigger over time, and it doesn’t lend itself to the dignity or comfort of people enduring the disease, especially children or smaller adults. Cots have to be sanitized, often several times a day.

At the CTC, we spent time meeting with the lead doctors and nurses of the center to better understand their problems, concerns, and needs. These same individuals would continue to be our sounding board for new ideas throughout the course of this project.

Following our initial discussions with CTC’s staff and firsthand interaction with cholera patients, we met with a small team from MASS and broke into smaller teams to brainstorm potential furnishing solutions. Fusing MASS’ values of local labor and capacity-building with our emphasis on human-centric design, our work culminated with two designs:

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