Build Health International’s COVID-19 response was featured on the Boston Network for International Development (BNID) Blog. Dorothy Goodwin sat down with BHI development & communications team members Darby Kirven and Ela Hefler to understand the critical role for infrastructure in the global COVID-19 response. You can read the full article on BNID’s Website.
Build Health International’s Covid-19 Response: The Importance of Infrastructure in Fighting Disease Outbreaks
Build Health International (BHI) is an organization based in Beverly, MA. Their mission is to promote global equity by creating high-quality health infrastructure for low resourced regions around the world. The organization uses the expertise of architects and engineers to create infrastructure and design plans that deliver sustainable and high quality healthcare, in partnership with direct care global health organizations. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit this year, they had to consider how to address the spread of the virus while considering additional structural barriers and ongoing health issues the communities they work in face. I met with Ela Hefler, BHI’s Development and Communications Specialist, and Darby Kirven, their Development and Communications Manager, to discuss BHI’s COVID-19 response and its implications for the entire global health sector.
The organization began by advocating for the possible severity of the virus in February and March through public communications and discussions with their partner organizations. Hefler and Kirven explained how they initially struggled establishing urgency and finding common ground with their partner organizations in forming an effective approach, especially due to funding constraints. After many conversations with their partners, the organization was able to direct their focus to providing their services to their partners and the global health sector as effectively as possible. This led to their COVID-19 response focusing on two main areas: making their knowledge and expertise on infrastructure accessible to as many organizations as possible and responding directly to their partner organizations’ expressed needs.
Providing more access to resources on healthcare infrastructure: BHI created open access resources for their infrastructure design plans on their website. In the past they had provided this information only through direct consulting, but to respond to the urgent need for emergency planning, they adapted their materials into more general information that other organizations could easily adapt to their needs. These resources include structural plans for adapting healthcare infrastructure to limit infection, such as plans for building patient screens, PPE guidance for low-resource settings, and coronavirus treatment center plans. Hefler stated that they have received feedback from these resources that has allowed them to expand their original plans to produce new ones. An example of this she cited was with one of their partners in Uganda who helped them design a treatment center plan that included one central staff room, instead of their usual two, in order to increase bed capacity. Adaptations such as this have helped BHI to generate new materials and expand the applicability of their resources, creating new partnerships for the organization and further expanding their impact.
Addressing the particular needs of other organizations: This has included executing their coronavirus treatment center plans with their organizations. Hefler said she has been very impressed with the rapidity of the building of these centers. She attributes the success of this to the dedication of their construction teams, such as the team at St. Boniface Hospital in Haiti. Beyond building specific treatment centers, BHI has worked to create greater oxygen capacity at healthcare facilities with the virus’ attack on the respiratory system. Hefler and Kirven described how BHI has worked closely with Hospital Universitaire de Mirebalais (HUM) in Haiti, where originally only ½ of beds had oxygen capacity. BHI worked with their partners there to scale up the facility so that now nearly 100% of beds hold oxygen capacity. The need for increased oxygen capacity has been a need felt across their partners, so the organization has focused on developing plans and funding for oxygen systems that are both cost and time effective.
Hefler and Kirven explained that many of the challenges they have faced in their response have aligned with the structural barriers of low resource settings. Hefler stated many of the facilities they work at have tight budgets, low bed capacity, and low testing capabilities, so they had to include these constraints within their design plans.
BNID is a nonprofit network and convener, which serves as a point of connection for groups and individuals in the Boston area concerned with issues of international development and global justice.