Share This

Jefferson Professor Helps Bring Modern Healthcare Facilities to Africa

With the second-largest population in the world—at more than 1.3 billion people—and a higher growth rate than any other continent, Africa presents a unique challenge to healthcare professionals, designers, and architects alike.

By the year 2050, Africa will require more than 100,000 new hospitals and countless health centers to serve its exploding population. Beyond the construction there are still a variety of issues that need to be addressed, such as utilizing Africa’s limited human resources, energy, and water—and there has been relatively little research done on these issues.

Jefferson is addressing this problem through the interdisciplinary collaboration between clinicians, industrial designers, engineers, and architects to create facilities specifically tailored to serve the growing needs of the African continent.

Chris Harnish, associate professor in the College of Architecture and the Built Environment, is the driving force behind Jefferson’s mission in Africa. Harnish joined Jefferson in 2009 and brought with him more than a decade of experience with humanitarian architecture and the healthcare climate in Africa.

“Historically there’s been a disconnect between the medical and design professions. Designers don’t research and evaluate their design work in the way required for medical evaluation,” Harnish says. “Meanwhile, medical professionals tend to not consider the built environment when they consider patient outcomes or quality of care—particularly in low-resource settings”

Jefferson’s designers and medical professionals are working together to bridge this gap. Through innovative, evidence-based research, we will examine local societal indicators to improve health outcomes by design.

Research has shown recovery times can be impacted by the healing environment. Jefferson has acted on this by designing facilities with patients in mind with positive results. These experiences will in turn influence the design of new health centers. Harnish sees the work that Jefferson is doing in Malawi as not only a chance to help a population in need, but also as a unique chance to grow as designers and physicians.

“The conditions are so very different between healthcare there and here, that we can’t just copy and paste design solutions,” Harnish says. “And that makes for better designers.”

This collaboration between Jefferson’s colleges of Population Health, Architecture and the Built Environment, and the Office of Global Affairs—and in partnership with the University of Malawi and Kamuzu Central Hospital in Africa—embodies the benefits resulting from the 2017 merger of Thomas Jefferson University and Philadelphia University. This union enables doctors and designers to join forces and develop more holistic solutions to problems and provide more comprehensive patient care.