On, April 25, 2012, World Malaria Day, the ARCHIVE Institute (Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments) a nonprofit organization, launched a competition that will engage and challenge various disciplines to conceive how design, particularly housing design, can help prevent malaria and improve the general health of poor communities.

In environments where locations of hospitals or clinics can be few and far between and the facilities themselves ill-equipped, preventable diseases can devastate villages or towns. The idea of designing housing that will actually improve health outcomes is something that ARCHIVE along with many of its volunteers and professionals have been developing since the inception of the organization in 2006 based on research carried out by Peter Williams, a trained architect.

In both developed and economically challenged countries, it has become obvious that access to basic healthcare has to start at a community level. This initiative admittedly strikes close to the heart for me but for different reasons. In my mother’s career as a nursing director one of her roles, alongside her country’s partnership with the World Health Organization, was to make routine trips out to the rural posts and townships to manage and check the community clinic programs and rural hospitals that were in these areas. Sometimes these education sessions were conducted under the shade of a tree as a junior nurse in her pristine white outfit quietly took notes, demonstrated how shots would be administered or how to burp baby. The junior nurse would also educate the community about proper cleaning and water usage methods within the home, disposal of waste products, etc. There was a need to improvise because resources were just not available. Ultimately, the community knew that it was too expensive to get sick and that there was possibly only one outcome.

Here in the United States the tide seems to be turning across the country as the looming prospect of healthcare reform dictates a need to change how healthcare is delivered. As the economic downturn reveals more and more people who are unable to access healthcare and services, it still remains to be seen whether health systems really will be able to cope with the number of people who will seek healthcare.

It may be that talking to patients in their homes and evaluating their living conditions may ease the burden on the healthcare system. It's a thought. For those hard-hit countries that ARCHIVE works with like Haiti and Cameroon, housing built for health may be one weapon in the fight against preventable diseases.