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

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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.

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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. 

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