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Competition Launched For AIDS Mobile Clinic Design - 2002-05-03

A competition is under way to design a mobile medical clinic for combating the HIV-AIDS crisis in Africa, sponsored by the non-profit group "Architecture for Humanity."

A team of experts range from doctors to researchers and architects. It came up with the criteria for the mobile HIV-AIDS clinic.

The vehicle will have to be equipped to test and treat the disease in Africa but must also disseminate information about AIDS and HIV.

In 1999, Cameron Sinclair founded Architecture for Humanity to promote design solutions to global, social and humanitarian crises. Mr. Sinclair, an architect himself, says the competition is not limited to architects.

"Architecture really undulates between many, many different areas," he said. "Whether it's dealing with health care or if it's dealing with rural planning, urban planning because essentially architecture is trying to design something that is highly efficient and low-cost, that will not just better whatever it's trying to achieve, but take it to the next level. And if you can do that to more than just restaurants and theme parks, you can create a viable solution to things like a mobile AIDS clinic."

Organizers say the competition has a practical goal, to build a working clinic to combat AIDS and HIV. Health officials estimate 28 million people in Africa are already infected, but only 200,000, most of them in urban areas, have access to treatment. Health workers say in some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa and Zimbabwe, the rate of infection is as high as 30 percent.

Public health specialist Kate Bourne is the vice president of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and a judge in the competition.

Ms. Bourne says that despite the alarming rate of infection, more ways are needed to deliver treatment and information about prevention, especially in sparsely populated rural areas.

"It's really an issue of access. And in some ways as difficult as the scientific challenges are in creating the vaccine, the really tough question is going to be how does the world deliver these, whether it is drugs, condoms, information, knowledge, or ultimately vaccines to an African village, because if it's not taken up and used by people, then it serves no purpose at all."

Architecture For Humanity's efforts to help combat the AIDS crisis follow its first competition in 1999 to design transitional housing for returning refugees in Kosovo. The idea was to develop an alternative to the make-shift plastic homes that shelter refugees all over the world for under $10,000.

One of the designs built into a working prototype and created by a group of British architects uses the material from a refugee's demolished home as the foundation for new shelter. Founder Cameron Sinclair says that although creating a final product is a slow process, another design for temporary shelter made out of cardboard tubes has already been used to house refugees in Rwanda. Mr. Sinclair says he was amazed by the response. He received 200 entries from 30 countries. "In our last competition we had a wide variety of people," he said. "We had farmers in the Midwest of the United States who had spare hay and would create a house out of hay and said 'can we enter?' We had people in the navy who were stationed in Saudi Arabia who just from their travels had seen many different kinds of housing, entered a design."

Twenty-eight-year old Cameron Sinclair runs Architecture for Humanity in his spare time with volunteers. He says that he has been inundated with e-mails and telephone calls about the architecture group modeled after the humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders.

"It's the obvious model. You have people that are in need and one of the things they need are doctors," Mr. Sinclair said. "You don't normally equate, well, you need architects. Basically, other than health, the other thing people need is shelter. It's almost a taboo subject in our community, the idea that we should respond to these humanitarian crises."

Submissions are due by November and finalists will be announced on World AIDS day December 1. There is no prize money. Instead, Mr. Sinclair says that the winner will be rewarded by creating a clinic that could save millions of lives.