ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) a project at Makerere University School of Public Health won a grant to develop the next generation tent for emergency service delivery in hot humid climates. The contextual background is that frontline healthcare workers involved in management of suspected and confirmed Ebola cases in hot humid climates work under very stressful conditions characterized by extreme heat and humidity predisposing them to heat stress and associated complications which also affect quality of care for patients by reducing contact time. Moreover, the Personal Protective Equipment creates a lot of extreme heat and discomfort. The team at Makerere University School of Public Health ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) has been charged with the task to develop the next generation tent for emergency service delivery in hot humid climates. The Humane Emergency Use Canopies and Accessories (HEUCA) project is a multi-disciplinary project engaging public health specialists, architects, engineers, IT specialists, Marketing Advocacy and communication experts, Business specialists and social scientists.

The community is at the core of RAN’s work. A team of multi-disciplinary experts and research assistants trained in the skills and techniques of Needfinding conducted Needfinding surveys in Wakiso, Adjumani and Kibale districts. This was aimed at engaging experienced target tent users between January 18 to February 05, 2016. The general objective of these surveys was to gain an in-depth understanding among organizations and individuals (experienced tent users) who have had the familiarity of using temporary structures, especially tents in hot climatic conditions. The survey was aimed at understanding the needs for temporary structures, the range of services offered in these structures, what else would be necessary to add to the tent as accessories, as well as their experiences regarding sources of discomfort when working in these structures. The study also explored coping mechanisms employed by these organizations to ameliorate the discomfort experienced while working in the tents. Interacting with experienced tent users and organizations also helped to understand the types of accessories used to facilitate the range of services provided in the tents with a view to discover an optimum range of accessories that can be pre-embedded into the tent to improve inhabitant conditions.

The surveys were both qualitative and quantitative; qualitatively variables including the following were assessed:

  • Types of temporary structures commonly used
  • Types of services provided in the temporary structures commonly used
  • Specific work activities and tasks involved in the types of services provided in the tents
  • Number of people who are usually in the tent on a typical working day
  • Challenges with current temporary structures
  • What is currently being done to overcome the challenges with current temporary structures
  • Major failure modes for the temperature regulations in the current structures
  • Types of accessories commonly used in the tents
  • Types of accessories that could be used if available to support work activities in the tent
  • Perceptions about proposed improvement in the tent

The quantitative study comprised an observational checklist (measured by using tape measures) in which Variables to be assessed in the semi-structured observations included:

  • Size and capacity of the tents
  • Shape
  • Materials used for the rigid structure of the tent
  • Materials used for the tent cover
  • Configuration of windows and doors
  • Lighting conditions and air flow mechanisms
  • Partitioning of work/stay areas

Furthermore, to capture the international organizations that use these temporary structures but are inaccessible for face to face interviews, we conducted online surveys and we hope for a significant response rate.

Organizations engaged include; UNHCR, MSF, Uganda Red Cross Society, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mulago Hospital Ebola Isolation Unit and UVRI. The experienced tent users included; doctors, nurses and lab technologists who use tents to provide health care services. These were in Kibale district at Kagadi hospital. Most of them had the opportunity to travel to West Africa to join the team which was responding to the Ebola outbreak. Therefore they shared and provided a rich experience.

All the information obtained will be transcribed and analyzed to gain more insights on accessories, design and experiences to refine the proposed solution.

Needfinding is a technique that allows innovators to gather deep human insights which can be used to explain a problem or design a solution. Derived from Ethnography, it uses a variety of classical ethnographic methods traditionally used by anthropologists, interviewers during fieldwork, observation, photography, physical mapping etc. Needfinding surveys provide target communities with an opportunity to adopt community centric solutions, solutions that address their actual needs. This is done by interacting with them, developing empathy with the end-users, allowing the innovator to put themselves in the shoes of the person they are designing for-the end-user, and design solutions that take into account the actual needs of the end-users instead of imposing solutions onto the communities. The insights generated are used to refine the innovative solutions. Information collected from these field visits will also be used by RAN to highlight existing innovations in target communities with the potential to strengthen resilience of the communities.

We continue to acknowledge the continued support from USAID, RAN Leadership and Team including the Administrators, HEUCA staff, research assistants, district Leadership (Wakiso, Adjumani, and Kibale), District focal persons, Health workers and the local community members at large.

Content originated by Grace Mongo Bua

Community Engagement Liaison Officer, RAN