American Univesity of Beirut

"Humanitarian Engineering: Designing Solutions for Health Challenges in Crises"

Developing new solutions for refugee and humanitarian health challenges requires innovation, partnership, and ability to work across multiple disciplines. In light of this, AUB's Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) and Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA), established the Humanitarian Engineering course, a structured program that brought together students and experts, from a variety of areas, to understand the context, identify the gaps,    co-design with the affected population, interact with researchers- and policy makers, develop a stream of solutions that are viable for implementation, and partner with NGOs and entrepreneurs for long-term development and deployment.

Held from July 2, 2018 till July 20, 2018. this unique course was organized by MSFEA and FHS, the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and International Health at Boston University, and Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design (CBID). It builds on the success of the two previous offerings of this course in June 2017 and January 2018 at AUB.

"This course has several components. It is multidisciplinary whereby we bring in students from all public health, engineering, humanities and sciences backgrounds together and teach them in a multidisciplinary perspective," said Aline Germani, Director of the Center of Public Health Practice (CPHP) at the FHS, and co-organizer of the Humanitarian Engineering course.

"The course also has the component of service learning since service learning is providing services to the community while achieving the course objectives. This is why there is a big component of field work in Syrian informal settlements in Lebanon," added Germani.

Over the course of three weeks, around 15 students from Lebanon and the US participated in a set of lectures, field visits to refugee camps, an engineering hackathon, and a competition, focusing on designing solutions for health challenges in crises. Students worked together in multidisciplinary teams throughout the duration of the course on ideation, design and solution prototyping.

"This course helped me understand the needs of the market, and to apply knowledge I acquired throughout the years in the right place and time, and in a professional context because my experience was basically on research," said Mohamad Touqan, ME student at MSFEA.  "I actually feel that this course gave me the right context to apply whatever knowledge I have."

"The collaborations with different universities from outside Lebanon gave it a very diverse setting that added a lot of excitement to the course and made it a lot more competitive but in a good way," said Touqan.

Participants from different backgrounds and with diverse perspectives were able to: (i) identify and define public health problems and needs in a specific domain for design purposes; (ii) engage with stakeholders in humanitarian settings enabling them to understand needs, constraints, and context, using appropriate research and design tools; (iii) apply formal design processes from different disciplines for the design of solutions and interventions given a set of constraints; (iv) apply relevant and appropriate technologies and tools to prototype their designs; and (v) present their problems and designs to a diverse audience effectively. 

"The title of the course attracted me because I work in humanitarian contexts tackling the problems of IDPs and people affected by war and crises," stated Fethi Hizam, a medical doctor from Yemen. 

"Taking into account that the design and engineering health solutions for those who are in need from the engineering perspective is one of the matters that we actually need. Not all the problems can be solved using the health perspective approaches. It is the right time to take the engineering perspective into account and combine it with other approaches as the health approach," he added.

Among the projects that students worked on, were solutions related to improve indoor air quality, provide clean water for refugees through water filters, and devices to bring non-formal education to children in refugee communities.​

According to the annual Global Trends study by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 68.5 million people had been driven from their homes across the world at the end of 2017. Refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution accounted for 25.4 million. Many of these populations have been displaced for protracted periods, with disruptions in livelihoods and stable living conditions for years and sometimes even decades.​​

All photos from this course are available on our Facebook page​.

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