If all goes well, five years from now, Myanmar will serve as an example of how a network of high-tech, locally driven clinics can improve health and medical care to underserved populations throughout the world.

The effort is being driven by Care For Peace, a Novato, Calif.-based nonprofit, and it’s starting with a country of more than 50 million people in southeast Asia.

Decades of military rule and civil unrest left the world's 24th most populous country with little healthcare infrastructure, especially in rural Myanmar. What did exist consisted mainly of traditional and herbal medicine that was gradually augmented by humanitarian and relief efforts by international organizations, says Jeff Hardy, president and founder of Care For Peace.

While some hospitals are being built today in the country’s bigger cities, such as Yangon and Mandalay, the majority of Myanmar is still underserved, particularly its vast rural areas. ““You’re really looking at an entire country that has very little reliable infrastructure,” Hardy says. 

Care For Peace wants to improve those conditions, so it’s established a cooperative agreement with the Ministry of Health of Myanmar to plan, design, and build a prototype technology-based mini medical center that can be replicated in an estimated 250 townships and villages. Ultimately, the government of Myanmar will take over operation of the facilities.

Each 40-by-30 foot mini medical center will be built with room to expand and be as self-sufficient as possible, Hardy says, with solar panels, a rooftop water tank, a septic tank, and outdoor toilets. Portable and mobile computing devices will include wall-mounted screens in every room, Wi-Fi connectivity, web cams, and telemedical and telecommunication systems to support clinical decisions, medical care, staff training, and management operations.

The first of 13 new mini medical clinics is slated to open in Taung Yin Village in July 2015 at the cost of $80,000. The prototype will be equipped with health and medical services, systems, and technologies to provide 90 percent of all the health and medical needs for the community so that patients won’t have to walk to a district hospital over difficult paths and roads—especially during monsoon season when travel is problematic, Hardy says.

In addition to the mini medical clinics, the organization is funding a $35,000 replacement facility for a rural health clinic in Pan Taw Pyin Village (West) on Ramree Island, Rakhine State, Myanmar, that was “literally falling down,” Hardy says.

It’s slated to open in February 2015 and will initially provide the same services as before but with new equipment, including a dental chair, hospital bed, operating/birthing room, and basic laboratory equipment. Computer equipment will include a Macbook with a large, wall-mounted monitor, two tablets, and two mobile phones. As the clinic builds its health and medical staff capacity, it can evolve into a mini medical center with a larger footprint and expanded services and technologies.

Hardy, who has worked in the international healthcare arena for more than 35 years, says the key to success begins with starting small and understanding the health and medical needs of the local population. “One of the biggest mistakes is to go into a country and give them what we think they need,” he says. “You have to have the people who are on the ground telling you what it is that they want and then start a dialogue.”

The nonprofit is also turning to locals for ideas on the built environment. “We’re identifying local building practices which are embedded in the culture and are sustainable and flexible, so that as the program becomes more successful, there are opportunities to build on that and scale it up,” says architect and healthcare design industry veteran Derek Parker, who is assisting in the design work on the project.

Parker, one of the founders of the evidence-based design movement in the U.S., says another key component is working with local Peoples Health Foundation (PHF) to establish base-line metrics and to systematically measure changes in outcomes, such as malaria and tuberculosis cases or neonatal mortality rates.

“I hope that over the next few months we would start identifying those measures which are meaningful to the local culture and where we can collect existing data, and gradually—step by step, year by year—show that the intervention of Care For Peace is having meaningful outcomes,” he says. “If we don’t achieve that, then why?”

For more information, visit careforpeace.org.