This article appeared in the spring 2015 issue of Dispatches, the MSF Canada magazine (PDF)
Design Shelter Inc. is a Canadian company that specializes in making insulated tents for use in the Arctic. The same principle that allows people inside the tents to stay warm in spite of frigid temperatures outside can also be applied in reverse to hot-weather climates – a notion that caught the attention of MSF’s Toronto office.
“The strict safety protocols MSF uses when responding to infectious disease outbreaks, like the ones in place at our Ebola treatment centres in West Africa, are designed to ensure there is as little chance as possible for viral transmission,” says Jonathan Jennings, the deputy executive director at MSF Canada. “That means our medical staff must wear full PPE at all times – the space suits you see in media coverage of the Ebola crisis – and in a field-hospital setting that heat can get overwhelming. If we can find a way to moderate those temperatures, it will have a direct impact on levels of care for our patients.”
While back in Canada recently, Dr. Tim Jagatic observed a demonstration of Design Shelter’s tent in Mississauga, Ontario, and liked what he saw. Not only did the structures offer advanced thermal insulation, which can greatly improve temperature control in the field, but a modular design and lightweight material mean the tents can be expandable, transportable and possible to set up within 30 minutes – ideal for emergency settings. More significantly, the tents have the potential to be fully decontaminated, which would mark a great improvement over current practices.
“Right now the tents we’re using at our Ebola treatment centres have to be burned when we’re finished with them, because they can’t be entirely decontaminated,” says Jennings. “That’s a concern for a number of different reasons, which is why this technology is important for us to consider.”