Proposal for topic: Doctors Without Borders (MSF), much more than just field hospitals

No doubt you have heard of MSF through its emergency projects and deployments and its campaign hospitals in difficult settings. Humanitarian aid is often only perceived as acting in emergencies or in the short term, but MSF works in 71 countries around the world and in some of those it has been present for more than 25 years. As a magazine specialising in hospital architecture and techniques, you will no doubt be interested to learn that MSF has been developing and working with increasingly complex hospital facilities since the mid-2000s. Today, we manage some dozen hospitals worldwide (Congo, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Haiti, etc.).

To design, build, set up and manage hospital facilities, MSF calls on professionals prepared to go out into the field. These may be engineers (hospital, industrial, civil, biomedical, systems, mechanical or electrical), architects or technicians (in maintenance, electrics and all building trades) – professionals with highly varied backgrounds, like your readers, who might be interested in the topics presented below.

Much more than campaign hospitals

Some of our hospitals are much more permanent than ‘campaign hospitals’. We are breaking new ground in design and construction processes and in the materials used so that we can continue to rapidly deploy our projects while also setting up longer-term facilities in which we can provide quality care over the long term. The medical activities carried out in these facilities are becoming increasingly complex, ranging from obstetric surgery and trauma care to orthopaedic surgery, neonatal care and, perhaps in the near future, reconstructive surgery.

Facility management and self-sufficiency

In these facilities, we install biomedical equipment, equipment to supply our energy and potable water needs, to process waste and waste water, and to communicate with the outside, and we develop our own standards. We then manage and maintain these facilities in the short (< 2 years), medium (2–5 years) or long term (> 5 years) depending on the operational needs, while also creating local technical teams who we train to operate these hospitals.

The hospital of the future: MSF’s capacity for innovation

Like many hospital designers and managers, we are tackling the challenge of the hospital of the future, with lines of research in system interoperability, space management, needs anticipation, project steering, quality and risk management, technical operation and more.

Below are a few examples of recent projects:

Modul(h)o is a prefabricated modular concept developed by MSF. Starting with a ‘standard’ 90-m2 module and combining it with others, we can create any kind of medical unit. A module can be deployed in one week by a team of nine people and does not need any heavy equipment to be installed. It has a lifespan of 30 years! This type of facility has already been deployed in South Sudan and Haiti and will soon be deployed in Mauritania, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. In 2017, MSF has planned to build a total of 40,000 m2 of medical facilities (including hospitals) worldwide.

Using 3D in hospital design and training. In this project we created a full 3D model of a hospital deployed in the Philippines. We printed it in 3D and also created a virtual reality version to let users find their way around. This project has been particularly useful in training and briefing sessions for staff going out into the field.

If these topics are of interest and you would like to find out more about our other innovative projects in all technical fields, please contact me to arrange an interview with one of our specialists.

Best regards,

Raphaël Piret

In Khost, Afghanistan, MSF has opened a maternity ward equipped with an operating theatre and neonatal unit. © Vivian Lee/MSF

14 February 2014: Midwives from the maternity ward at the hospital in Khost care for newborn twins. © Andrea Bruce/Noor Images

In Doro, South Sudan, MSF has just finished building a new 1,000-m2 health facility that will provide a 50-bed maternity ward, an obstetric unit and a neonatal intensive care unit. © Carlos Cortez Henriquez/MSF

A module of the new MSF structure before the roof is installed. © Carlos Cortez Henriquez/MSF

Modules of the new MSF structure fully assembled. © MSF

Tabarre hospital, opened in Port-au-Prince in February 2012, is a referral centre for trauma, orthopaedic and visceral surgery, capable of performing 600 operations a month. © Miguel Trelles/MSF

Tabarre hospital comprises 280 prefabricated containers assembled to create an emergency surgery referral centre with 121 inpatient beds and 3 operating theatres. © Elvina Motard

Doctors operate on a patient’s leg in the Tabarre surgical centre in the east of Port-au-Prince. The teams deliver emergency care and orthopaedic and abdominal surgery for victims of gun violence, domestic violence and road traffic accidents. © Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi

Construction of Bar Elias hospital in Lebanon (August 2017). The hospital is planned to open in mid-2018. © Laetitia Di Placido

Artist’s view of Bar Elias hospital in Lebanon. This secondary referral centre will provide general and orthopaedic surgical services in the Beqaa Valley, where the number of Syrian refugees is estimated at 1,500,000.

Presentation of the result of the 3D modelling and printing project for Cantahay hospital (Philippines). © Alex Yallop/MSF

A waiting room at Cantahay hospital (Philippines) printed in 3D. © Alex Yallop/MSF

A member of MSF staff tries out virtual reality to explore Cantahay hospital (Philippines). © Alex Yallop/MSF

Construction of the prefabricated hospital in Guiuan (Philippines). In the aftermath of the typhoon in 2013, MSF provided emergency medical assistance with a tent hospital before building this more permanent facility. It was built in four months. © Juan Anibal Ordenes Vera/MSF

The prefabricated hospital in Guiuan, designed to last five years, offers maternity care and surgical services along with outpatient hospital services. In September 2014, it was handed over to the Ministry of Health. © Elvina Motard

An expatriate reviews the plans for a facility under construction. © Enass Abu Khalaf-Tuffaha/MSF

For orthopaedic surgery, our medical teams use mobile radiology equipment (in this instance, C-arm). © Yann Libessart/MSF

Inpatient at the Guiuan transitional hospital. There is an average of ten admissions per day at this hospital. © Nacho Hernandez


Médecins Sans Frontières is a medical-humanitarian emergency organisation, working in over 60 countries worldwide.