Main image: Busamed Modderfontein Private Hospital

The global Covid-19 pandemic presented unprecedented challenges to healthcare service provision. The shortage of equipment, facilities and supplies to handle its spread necessitated rapid response as communities, businesses and economies were tested on almost every possible front.

As the dust settles, Jabulile Nhlapo, healthcare lead and principal associate of WSP in Africa, considers the lessons learned and the opportunities to preserve what was built in the healthcare arena.

Jabulile Nhlapo, healthcare lead and principal associate of WSP in Africa

Interventions to survive

During the pandemic, several interventions were put in place to promote the best possible scenario outcome for communities to survive together. Across Africa and around the world, large open-space venues were repurposed to manage the surge in infections in the face of immense uncertainty. WSP’s healthcare experts were among those who helped clients to prepare and respond over the short and medium term, while planning for every possible scenario over the long term.

WSP drew on a long-established healthcare network to apply lessons learned to their local context. They learned to design and build facilities that could provide the necessary services quickly, and help their clients and communities prepare for a rapidly changing future and unforeseeable events.

Important lessons learned

Testing facilities to treat diseases

One of the most important lessons for healthcare is that it is possible to reach communities in which infrastructure tends to be lacking.

Testing facilities that are focused on prevalent yet treatable diseases, such as malaria, can go a long way towards enabling basic, first-response care where it’s needed. Similarly, other non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases and cancer, are a growing issue that must be adequately prepared for.

In many rural communities, illnesses are not addressed early enough because the patient lacks access to care and advice. The lessons learned from Covid-19 can be used to establish testing centres and medical care facilities for known illnesses in rural communities, to enable earlier treatment.

Development of medical precincts

To put this into context, the team notices a growing number of new medical precincts being developed in various parts of the continent. The aim is that these medical precincts will become regional centres of excellence, and thereby reduce the number of citizens needing to travel out of the continent for major procedures and treatment.

There will thus be increased intracontinental specialist healthcare provision, aligning with the goal of creating a continent-wide market for the trade of goods and services. Smaller satellite and rural facilities must be developed to support the overall healthcare ecosystem.

Designing in the face of uncertainty

It is necessary to plan in the face of uncertainty and how to design for the eventuality of a pandemic in our current hospital and building designs to ensure the building is future-proofed.

Post-pandemic caused the designer’s mind to shift into thinking more about the adaptability of current solutions. The client is also more open to understanding how facilities can be future-proofed, even in the case where it involves a slight cost increase or additional system control measures.

Full acknowledgement and thanks go to www.wsp.com for the information in this editorial.

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