PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — There is something rustic about the idea of simply taking advantage of a healthy environment to fight disease. The notion is reminiscent of a time when a doctor’s first advice after running their small gambit of medicines and tinctures was to get plenty of fresh air. Yet, there is nothing rustic nor simple about two “open-air” clinics that are being built in Haiti to combat the country’s deadliest diseases—tuberculosis and cholera.
The MASS Design Group, an architectural design firm based in Boston, is working on constructing a clinic for each disease. The clinics will employ the most advanced medical architecture to provide the best possible environment for tuberculosis and cholera patients.
For example, tuberculosis incubates best in sealed rooms where the air is stagnant. The clinic being built, which is to replace a former clinic destroyed in Haiti’s disastrous earthquake in 2010, differs from traditional medical architecture in that the rooms are spacious and have wide windows that face each other on parallel walls in order to create a healthful cross-ventilation. These windows, however helpful they will be, are just the simplest innovation.
Each patient room will have a vestibule or balcony outdoors so that doctors may examine and treat their patients outside. By interacting with patients outdoors, doctors drastically lower their risk of infection. In addition, members of the cleaning crews may enter bathrooms through a separate door instead of passing through patient rooms.
According to Doctor Jean William Pape, who founded the original tuberculosis clinic that was destroyed by the earthquake, “Architecture and health are inseparable, a building that is ugly, with no fresh air, no dignity or common sense, is a place people will avoid, and this encourages epidemics.”
Cholera, which did not exist in Haiti for over a century, has spread to 657,000 Haitians. Nepalese peacekeeping troops unknowingly introduced the disease to the country while providing aid following the earthquake. To make matters worse, after the earthquake companies hired to dispose of cholera-contaminated waste water illegally dumped it instead, thus spreading cholera at an exponential rate.
To ensure that cholera does not infect more people than it already has, MASS built a waste water treatment system at the base of their cholera clinic that will treat up to 250,000 gallons of water each year.
This is not the first time that the environment has been taken into consideration when constructing medical facilities. The water treatment system in the cholera clinic was vaguely inspired by hospitals that engineered state of the art sewer systems when these two diseases were once rampant in cities such as New York and London.
Coming in at a cost of $2 million for the TB clinic and just $700,000 for the cholera clinic, MASS is considering their building, thus far, a success, especially for the thousands of patients who are awaiting more proper treatment from inside temporary tents that are difficult to keep cool and sanitary.
A partner at MASS, Michael Murphy explained the clinic’s efficiency in juxtaposition to U.S. hospitals that are quickly becoming architecturally outdated. “There’s a real chance to end cholera and tuberculosis, but that can only happen with permanent infrastructure,” stated Murphy.
– Jarad Sassone-McHugh