Innovation saves lives: Unveiling of the new Ebola suit by Jhpiego at NY Fashion Week


Jhpiego showcased its new, groundbreaking Ebola suit, produced in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design as a result of a hackathon, at the New York Fashion Week. It may not be the kind of a garment that normally gets the spotlight at Fashion Week, but it most likely is the only one with potential to save lives. Baltimore-based wedding dress designer Jill Andrews from Jill Andrews Gowns advised o the design of the suit.

I had the pleasure to attend a New York Fashion Week Pop-Up Event organized by Jhpiego, GE Foundation and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to  showcase an innovative protective suit for healthcare workers who treat Ebola patients. The suit was designed and created as a result of a hackathon organized by Jhpiego and Johns Hopkins University, and is currently being developed by Jhpiego and the Johns Hopkins’ Center for BioEngineering Innovation & Design (CBID). Wedding designer Jill Andrews also advised on the suit design.

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Left to right: Wedding dress designer Jill Andrews; CEO of Jhpiego, Dr. Leslie Mancuso; and Matthew Petney from Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design

This new suit has been developed based largely on direct feedback from health workers in the field, who have shared what they consider to be the biggest shortcomings with current protective suits – ranging from not being able to see properly when wearing it, and removing the suit involving over 20 steps and therefore being incredibly time consuming and cumbersome. Health workers on the ground in countries such as Liberia, Sierra Leona and Guinea are at the front lines of the fight against Ebola, and unless they can be kept safe while carrying out their life-saving job, fight against Ebola and other infectious diseases can’t be won. Innovative solutions, such as this new suit, are essential for finding not only new, but more effective and sustainable ways to ensure that health services reach those most in need, even in remote and rural areas, and that the safety and health of nurses, doctors, midwives and other health workers on the ground is protected.

ebola suit comparison

It is also clear that this suit, and other innovations like it, will have a huge impact particularly on the lives and well-being of women and girls. Most nurses and midwives carrying out lifesaving work on the ground are female, and female nurses represent the majority of the medical personnel who have died of Ebola. Women and girls are also disproportionately affected by the disease. According to Liberian authorities, up to 75% of Ebola fatalities have been women, and the Ebola outbreak has left women in need of other lifesaving services, such as maternal and reproductive care, stranded and unable to access clinics and reach doctors and nurses. According to the head of UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response, Ugochi Daniels, women in Ebola-affected countries currently face a triple threat:

You could die from Ebola, you could die during pregnancy or you could die during childbirth.

Women and girls are statistically more likely to be affected by ebola than men, and therefore more efforts that specifically target the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls are desperately needed. Innovation such as this Ebola suit from Jhpiego and its partners will not only protect the safety of health workers – many of whom are women – but also ensure that other essential health services continue to reach women and girls even in the middle of the current Ebola outbreak. Jhpiego as well as CBID at Johns Hopkins University are working on many other innovative solutions and approaches to challenges facing women and girls worldwide, including cervical cancer, maternal and reproductive health and family planning. With out-of-the-box thinking like this, we’ll hopefully see a real turn towards the better not only with the current Ebola crisis, but for women and girls on a much larger scale.

Visit Jhpiego for more information on the suit and Jhpiego’s collaboration with Johns Hopkins University. 

Midwives: The Real Unsung Heroes

There are individuals, around the world, who are saving the lives of women, children and families every day. These are no ordinary people, in fact, many call them heroes. They travel to remote villages, through crowded urban centers, across mountains and rivers to provide life saving care to mothers and families. Creativity and strength are their “super powers” as they work with limited resources under strenuous conditions.

These super heroes have saved the lives of many of my friends. Amazing individuals, most of them women, provide loving care to babies and mothers near and dear to my heart. Who are they? It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no it is:

A midwife!

Midwives are saving lives. They help prevent serious complications for mothers and their babies during childbirth. Competent midwives greatly decrease the risk of both mother and child dying during birth. After childbirth, midwives continue to support mothers and their children through care, help with breastfeeding and other comprehensive support services. Their jobs look different depending on the country where they work.

Midwives must have the right skills and the best resources in order to do their jobs effectively.

With the help of a trained midwife, women’s and families’ stories around the world are different. Death is replaced with life. A midwife can provide the essential care needed to prevent harmful and preventable complications during and after birth. Yet, more than one-third of all births take place without the care of a skilled birth attendant. The 2011 State of the World’s Midwifery report, listed nine countries with a significant shortage of trained midwives or skilled birth attendants. Many of these countries have some of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates.

We need more trained midwives and we must celebrate those tirelessly working to save mothers, children and families around the world.

In the developing world, midwives need continual training and ongoing support. To ensure this support is a reality, governments, organizations, the private and health sectors and midwives, themselves, must be involved.

Last fall, I had the privilege of visiting the Hamlin Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I was impressed by The Hamlin College of Midwives and their mission to train more midwives to serve in rural areas in Ethiopia where there is a significant need for maternal care.

I recently read an amazing story about how Jhpiego, an organization working to save the lives of women and children worldwide, is supporting a midwifery program in rural Ethiopia. They also work in other countries to support maternal and child health programs.

The Hamlin College of Midwives and Jhpiego are two positive examples of people and organizations working to support the incredible work of midwives.

On June 1st the International Confederation of Midwives will hold the 30th Triennial Congress in Prague. Over 3,000 midwives from around the world will gather to share their work, learn new best practices and celebrate each other! During the congress, the 2014 State of the World’s Midwifery report will be published. The world’s leading general medical journal The Lancet will feature a midwifery series. At the congress, special ceremonies will be held to recognize and honor midwives vital contributions. Let’s take the time and celebrate these amazing heroes.

There is beauty and hope reflected in the lives of women who are able to deliver safe and healthy babies.

Want to join the global conversation?

Follow @GirlsGlobe, @JNJGlobalHealth, @FHI360, @world_midwives and #ICMLive for coverage related to the upcoming International Confederation of Midwives, taking place in Prague,1-5 June 2014. Use the hashtag #SOWMY2014 and follow the launch of the 2014 State of the World’s Midwifery Report.

 Cover Photo Credit: UNAMID, Flicker Creative Commons

Celebrate Midwives!

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Today is the International Day of the Midwife. Midwives are essential for women all around the world, whether it is for seeking advice on contraception, sexual and reproductive health, or for life saving interventions during pregnancy and childbirth.

When I ask my sister-in-law, Liza, what she enjoys about being a midwife, she always responds with a heartwarming smile and tells me about helping a woman breastfeed her newborn and the essential connection between mother and baby. She tells me about the importance of a kind and guiding individual for women giving birth. She tells me about the joy of seeing parents hear their newborn baby cry for the first time. Liza is an inspiration to listen to and I believe she has one of the most important jobs in the world.

Today, more than ever, the world needs midwives. It is estimated that 200 000 women and girls die during pregnancy or childbirth each year. 800 women and girls die every day.

That’s like 2 crashed jumbo jets filled with pregnant women and girls, every single day!

The number of women who die during pregnancy and childbirth is unacceptable, and this is not a global problem, 99 % of maternal deaths occur in developing countries. Further, the fact is that for every woman who dies, 20 more experience serious complications that can lead to childbirth injuries like Obstetric Fistula.

Surviving childbirth should not be a stroke of luck, depending on where you are born!

To make matters even worse, it is estimated that infants die at a number ten times that of women and girls who die during pregnancy and childbirth! Infants survival rates are also closely linked to the health and life of their mothers. Saving babies requires us to save mothers too.

But did you know that the majority of the causes of maternal mortality and morbidity are preventable?

What we need in the world today is for women and girls to receive the information to make well-informed decisions about their lives, including their health and their pregnancies. Furthermore, if women had access to the care that they need before, during and after pregnancy and childbirth, women’s lives could be saved. For women to receive quality information and care, access to a midwife is essential.

Midwives are a key to prevention!

It is estimated that 350 000 midwives are needed in the world today, to meet the needs of the hundreds of thousands of women and girls that will find out they are pregnant in the near future.

“Midwives, midwives, midwives!” is what obstetric fistula surgeons repeatedly iterated the importance of at the International Working Group for Obstetric Fistula meeting in Dhaka, Bangladesh in November last year. If there were enough midwives, access to quality contraception, care and information, these surgeons would hopefully be out of a job one day.

There are several organizations that specifically work to educate midwives in developing countries, such as the International Confederation of Midwives and UNFPA.  These organizations set standards for the training of midwives and conduct midwifery training in many developing countries around the world. Educating midwives is essential to increase the number of midwives available in developing countries.

Dr. Edna Adan, who is seen in the above video, works to educate midwives at her hospital in Somaliland. Training a community midwife costs $200 a month. You can support her work of educating midwives by giving to the Edna Adan Maternity Hospital as part of the Raise for Women Challenge on Crowdrise.

Laerdal Global Health is a non-profit organization that creates innovative solutions to midwifery training. They have put together an incredibly light-weight, low-cost childbirth simulator that is specifically made for developing countries, called the MamaNatalie. This birthing model makes it easy to simulate normal to more complex birthing scenarios, covering several of the main causes of maternal death. I’ve seen this model demonstrated and I’m amazed! Here’s a video demonstration:

Leardal Global Health works together with Jhpiego to support midwifery training and decrease maternal mortality through the Helping Mothers Survive initiative. For each MamaNatalie simulator that is bought, Laerdal Global Health donates one! It is interventions like these that are necessary to create sustainable development and save lives.

If anyone who reads this feels compelled to become a midwife, or become involved in training midwives in developing countries, all I can say is, “DO IT!”

You are needed more than ever and we will be celebrating you, not only today, but every day of the year, because you are needed to save lives!


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The featured image for this post is from The School of Midwifery at Makeni, Sierra Leone, by Direct Relief on Flickr.