American University of Beirut

Students from AUB and the US collaborate on solutions to health challenges in crises

​​Office of Communications, ​​

From across continents and across disciplines, more than 50 students came together during the winter term to develop solutions for refugee and humanitarian health challenges. The three-week Humanitarian Engineering course included students from AUB, Johns Hopkins University, and Boston University in the US. 












Building on the success of the First Summer School on Humanitarian Engineering, which took place at AUB in June 2017, the course seeks to help students understand the context of refugee and humanitarian health challenges as well as identify the gaps and work with the affected populations, researchers, and policymakers to develop viable solutions.

Organized by AUB’s Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) and Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA), the Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design, and the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University, the course took place from January 8–26, 2018. 

“The course is not exactly about solving health challenges in protracted crises. It’s about training and preparing engineers and health professionals to do that,” said Dr. Imad Elhajj, one of the course organizers and a professor at MSFEA. “We equip students with the right methods, procedures, policies, and tools to actually design and develop effective, scalable, and sustainable health solutions in these contexts.”

Students from diverse disciplines worked together in teams throughout the duration of the course on ideation, design, and solution prototyping. They participated in a series of lectures, field visits to refugee camps, an engineering hackathon, and a competition, all focused on designing solutions for health challenges in crises.

“This hackathon and course are very useful for assessing and narrowing the needs in the health sector in refugee settings, because these needs vary from material to non-material,” said Marwa, an anthropology student active in the humanitarian field. “Seeing it from engineering and public health perspectives and bringing those together on the same platform is a very useful tool,” she added. 

Student teams joined remotely from Johns Hopkins University through video conferencing and online portals, while others came from Boston University (BU) to Beirut to participate. Anna, an engineering student from BU, described the course as being “extremely influential.” 

“Even in these past couple of days, I have learnt more on how to apply my engineering skills and what kind of engineering tools I can use for my future and for the future of those around me as well,” Anna told us. “It is such an interesting overlap between engineering and public health and other social justice issues. That is just not commonly talked about within any of my classes at university”.

Among the projects that students worked on were solutions related to manage sewage and water waste, an early warning system for fire hazards in camps, mobile applications to improve vaccination data, an automated system for health care information sharing, as well as heating in refugees’ tents. 

“This course is special in that it provides students from different backgrounds the opportunity to think, plan, and design together for a greater good, tapping on each other’s resources and knowledge,” said Aline Germani, director of the Center for Public Health Practice at FHS and one of the organizers of this event. “I have witnessed how interacting with afflicted populations allowed the students to recognize global inequities and to get in touch with their humanity. Their motivation and commitment for three full weeks including weekends and overnights was inspirational.”​

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