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Three MSF Innovations that could save lives in the future...

What do you do when you have a big idea at work, but aren’t sure how to make it happen, or even if it will really work? Ideas from our staff have the potential to revolutionise the way Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders works, in big and small ways. Here are three projects aiming to do just that...

1) Lean Chemical Weapons Kit (LCWK)

Working in areas where there’s a threat from chemical weapons is stressful. Personal decontamination kits can offer some protection in the event of exposure to chemical weapons, but they are bulky and hard to store in the cramped conditions that our staff often find themselves working in, even though they should be within reach at all times. This contradiction can mean that precious time is wasted worrying about the kit rather than focusing on healthcare delivery for patients.

The Lean Chemical Weapons Kit is a project proposed by a Médecins Sans Frontières logistician recently on assignment in Iraq. Through lean design principles, he aims to develop a discrete, efficient and ergonomic decontamination kit, designed to be ever-present, but barely noticeable, and with a foolproof procedure (in fact, it will be tested by blindfolded participants), meaning that staff working in these tough circumstances can be confident in their equipment and dedicate their attention to the patients in front of them.

2) Task-based modelling for safe nurse staffing levels

From providing intensive care to our sickest patients to leading the fight for infection control, nurses play a central role in Médecins Sans Frontières’ provision of healthcare to patients and are integral in all Médecins Sans Frontières teams. Ensuring that nurse staff levels are sufficient to ensure patient safety and maximise the level of care we provide is an important challenge for Médecins Sans Frontières. This means ensuring the team on shift at any time has a suitable mix of education, skills and experience.

Current safe staffing ratios for nurses were developed by experts on a one-size-fits-all basis. The team behind this proposal seek to take a data-driven approach to augment the current ratios by incorporating staff modeling based on workload data. This means capturing workload or task data (how long a task takes, how many people it involves, how often it happens etc) relating to the care being delivered, our patient characteristics, our care settings, our staff characteristics, tasks that actually get missed and level of satisfaction. Once they have this data, the team can then start to develop models to predict nurse staff needs for current and future scenarios. However, they are not at this point yet...

The first phase of this project is to try to develop a data capture tool that can record the whole spectrum and complexity of nursing activities in Médecins Sans Frontières project locations - not an easy task in itself! The information needs to be of sufficient quality that it can provide insight into the relationship between nursing activities and the quality of care Médecins Sans Frontières provides to patients. Watch this space...

3) Malnutrition screening toolbox for children under 6-months old

Many of the infants below 6 months of age who are seen at Médecins Sans Frontières hospitals and clinics are there for treatment for infectious diseases. But in many of places where Médecins Sans Frontières works there is a high chance that these babies also have underlying malnutrition. Early treatment of this malnutrition increases the odds that the baby will survive, decreases the likelihood that they’ll catch disease and also helps them grow.

However, screening babies this young for malnutrition is not easy, partly due to the tools available to our medical staff. The most common approach at the moment is to use measuring boards to check the baby’s growth. These are cumbersome and heavy, and the paper forms used to measure levels of malnutrition are complicated and prone to human error. In Médecins Sans Frontières projects, malnutrition screening at this young age is not standard in many of our medical projects.

To address this gap, an Médecins Sans Frontières epidemiologist in India has proposed to implement and test a new toolkit, including a digital infantometer (a length measuring device for babies) and a z-score calculator (an app that calculates malnutrition levels from weight and height readings), developed by the World Health Organisation. These tools will be evaluated to assess their feasibility in Médecins Sans Frontières projects and to see whether their use can mean an increase in the number of infants under 6 months we can screen and, therefore, treat for malnutrition.