One of the reasons I love covering this industry is that the people that I get to interview—architects, interior designers, planners, and owners—are so passionate about their work and their efforts to use design to help others.

Thankfully that work isn’t reserved to hometowns and native countries, and is increasingly crossing borders, especially to developing parts of the globe where needs are vast and complicated.

I was particularly excited to speak with Jeff Hardy and Derek Parker recently about a project they’re involved with half-way across the globe in Myanmar, a country in southeast Asia with a population of more than 50 million people and very little healthcare infrastructure

Hardy, who has worked in the international healthcare arena for more than 35 years, founded Care For Peace with the mission to improve the lives of people in Myanmar by creating a network of mini health clinics that would bring health education and public health services to its remote villages. (For more details on the project, read “Building Change In Myanmar, One Healthcare Clinic At A Time.”

While I was impressed with the scope and intentions of the project, I was also struck by their approach. Instead of going in with preconceived ideas and designs, Hardy, president of Care For Peace, and Parker, a healthcare design industry veteran who is lending his expertise and insight to the design work, started by talking with the residents and getting them to decide what they needed most.

“We decided that we would start small, in a very rural area, and give the people the tools so that they can build and develop their own healthcare system,” Hardy says, “rather than doing what has failed miserably in many other areas, which is to go in and build a hospital in the middle of a pile of thatched huts and nobody knows what to do with them.”

Parker says he was interested from the beginning by the fact that “this has nothing to do with architecture; it has everything to do with design.”

The design, he says, is essentially of a total system in which the physical buildings plays an important but supporting role. “That physical infrastructure has to be from a healthcare/public healthcare point of view and it needs to be generated from the local ground up,” he says. “Rather than bringing in designs and materials, we’re looking at identifying local building practices which are embedded in the local culture and are sustainable, flexible, and scalable.”

Since many of the major medical centers are inaccessible to a vast region of the country, Care For Peace plans to start small, but smart, targeting the more remote areas.

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.

The “smart” part comes in the form of Internet based technologies and equipment that will be part of every clinic, including wall-mounted screens in every room, Wi-Fi connectivity, web cams, and telecommunication systems. The technology will support clinical decisions, medical care, staff training, and management operations, as well as enable communication between the clinics and major medical centers around the globe.

Success will come not only in the form of increased access to healthcare but improved outcomes among residents, such as reduced infection and mortality rates, which will be tracked and measured by the ocal Peoples Health Foundation.

“There’s a real need and we think we have a sensitive, locally based program to address that need,” Parker says. “It’s going to be modest to begin with, its potential is substantial, and anyone who feels they have something to contribute should be encouraged to do so.”

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