KAMPALA, UGANDA – In light of the persistence of the Ebola outbreak and the demands it has placed on global infection containment resources and processes, the United States government disaster response community recognised an opportunity to use open innovation to make significant strides in advancing the ability to combat Ebola. The results include a local success story.
“The United States Agency for International Development [USAID], in partnership with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense, created a Grand Challenge for Development to target Ebola because we faced the largest epidemic of this disease in history,” said Wendy Taylor, director of USAID’s Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact [attribution corrected].
In just two months, “innovators from around the world submitted over 1,500 ideas focused on redefining Ebola Treatment Units (ETU),” Taylor told Intellectual Property Watch. “These ideas were for helping frontline healthcare workers to provide better, more timely care and, developing care setting interventions that would provide a safer environment for treatment, and building community interventions to support the containment of this devastating virus.”
The Challenge chose three of ETU-focused applicants to fund. One of the chosen ideas is the next generation ergonomic tent design submitted by ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) and Makerere University, in Kampala, Uganda.
The ResilientAfrica Network, a development laboratory under the Higher Education Solutions Network in the Office of Science and Technology, USAID, is a partnership of 20 African universities in 16 countries aiming to strengthen the resilience of communities by nurturing and scaling innovations from the different universities. Its head office is in Kampala.
According to Taylor, “the tent was chosen by the Grand Challenge team because it confronts issues with the current ETU designs in a unique way; with its focus on easy portability at a low cost and greater air flow capacity through an ergonomic design, which will provide greater patient and health care worker comfort.”
The RAN and Makerere team will receive funding to support their research and development, prototyping and user testing of the tent. This will allow the team to make necessary adaptations before reaching the commercial market.
A deployable prototype is expected to be in the field in the next five months.
The team is led by two people; Prof. William Bazeyo, dean of the Makerere University School of Public Health and RAN chief of party, and Dr. Roy William Mayega, the RAN deputy chief of party.
In a joint response from the team leaders, they said, “The proposed next generation ergonomic tent is a modification of the traditional tent and maintains the current tent design in simplicity, affordability and structural stability. The new design offers a revolutionised mechanism for heat and air exchange in two ways: Creating a system for convectional currents using ambient air and creating porous walls that allow air exchange to cool the tent interior.”
Local Idea, Local IP Rights
The team is now at the application stage for securing the intellectual property rights on the ergonomic tent design. Once the design IP right is granted, the contents and intellectual merit of the design will be the property of Makerere University School Public Health in Kampala.
The leaders explained that if there are any accrual from the intellectual property of the design, Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) claims majority rights to the IP. The College of Engineering, Design and Art (CEDAT) of Makerere University and USAID will also co-share the benefits of the IP for this innovation, negotiated based on their level of claim to the IP.
“MakSPH will grant USAID a non-exclusive, royalty-free, perpetual license to use any resultant or derived intellectual property including product, service, or technology that will be developed using this grant, for humanitarian development work targeting low income countries,” they said.
According to Prof. Mukadasi Buyinza, “the university has the Intellectual Property Management Policy in place to galvanise innovation and creativity among both staff and students for the public good, and when commercialised, generate income for the innovator and the university.”
Buyinza is the director, Directorate of Research and Graduate Training, at Makerere University.
“We believe that the new tent design will revolutionise working conditions for humanitarian workers and first responders working in camps in hot climates where the use of temporary structures is vital,” said Bazeyo and Mayega.
“The tent is the super-structure that houses most of the operations of the Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs),” they said. “In the heat stressed environments of ETUs in tropical Africa, improved air-circulation in the tent structure will reduce average temperatures in the patient management and administration spaces, thereby positively impacting on the comfort of health workers.”
It is hypothesised that these designs will singly or in combination reduce the ambient temperatures within the tent cavity by between 5 to 10 0C in situations of extreme heat.
The new design will contribute to reduction of the discomfort from wearing the heavy personal protective equipment materials by making the ambient environment more humane.
Tents that were primarily designed for humanitarian warehousing will now be re-customized and recalibrated to more humanoid applications. It will then be more possible to establish rapidly deployable hospitals and other forms of emergency service delivery points.
This tent has been designed to be deployed in the Ebola affected areas of West Africa. However, the team envisages the tent will transcend its use in the ETUs and can be deployed under different humanitarian works particularly in areas with very hot and humid climates.
According to the team leaders, “a multi-disciplinary team of students and staff from MakSPH and CEDAT at Makerere University, Uganda were involved in the development of this innovation. It involved convening a series of facilitated ideation meetings in which the development challenge was problematized and possible solutions proposed, using human-centered design approaches.”
They added that, “the ideation process involved convening a multi-disciplinary team of experienced professionals including public health experts, social and medical anthropologists, nurses involved in management of ETUs, communication, structural and materials engineers, design artists, epidemiologists involved in management of outbreaks in Uganda, innovators and business developers and facilitating a context analysis and ‘divergence-convergence’ exercise.”
One of the anticipated challenges, the team predicts, is keeping the cost of developing and deploying this tent low in order to enable scale-up use. “We aim to also accessorize this tent with vents and equipments that can measure certain vitals of the patients like temperature and blood pressure among others and this may escalate the price,” they said.