The role of design in global health and how it can contribute to equitable healthcare access worldwide was discussed at a mini-symposium held on Friday July 10, 2015.

The symposium was organised under the umbrella of the Delft Global Initiative of TU Delft by the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE). It aimed to address the challenges faced in the field of humanitarian and medical design, with presentations from four speakers of different backgrounds and disciplines sharing their perspectives. The symposium was preceded by Ana Laura Santos defending her PhD on the topic of designing sustainable healthcare for humanitarian aid.

In a humanitarian emergency international organisations transfer a variety of medical equipment and staff to an affected area. The transfer and use of ‘normal' complex medical equipment to and in disaster areas can be problematic, according to Santos. "It’s often designed to operate in controlled environments and therefore not suitable to be transported, used, maintained and disposed in austere and low-resource settings," she said. Industrial design engineers can tackle this problem, she suggests, by redesigning equipment in a simpler way.

Professor Anthony Redmond, UK emergency coordinator and surgeon, pointed out that in a disaster situation the aid offered is often not what is needed on the ground. Further, volunteers that are not accredited and accountable are not helpful. "John Travolta flying into Haiti with his private jet, blocking the airport to provide 200 scientologists to carry out healing by touch, is a poignant but humorous point that the right people need to be present post disaster," he said.

Lessons from medical missions in Indonesia were presented by Professor Eddy Rahardjo, anaesthesiologist from Indonesia, where they want to enable systems for people to help themselves in the absence of aid. Drugs, medical equipment and procedures need to be understood, used properly and maintained. He suggested that special training and personnel alongside donations would be useful, along with the use and donation of simpler machines that can help avoid a collision of two cultures.

Professor Jenny Dankelman, of TU Delft's Department of Biomedical Engineering, talked about global surgery and her research developing safe high quality affordable tools and instruments for minimally invasive interventions. She presented a WHO statistic that 1 billion people live with a disability, and 80% of those live in a developing country, which illustrates the potential impact of her work. "Engineers and clinicians should work closely with experts in developing countries," she concluded.

Richard Goossens, Professor of Physical Ergonomics in IDE, presented some of the projects being undertaken in the faculty. He shared his thoughts about design driven innovation in healthcare, describing how you can influence the behaviour of people by design. For example, the wheelchair based on the experience of a mountain bike.

A panel discussion concluded the event.