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Engineering solutions for developing nations

January 14, 2013

Since graduating in 2011, former Northeastern Civil Engineering student Ann Polaneczky has been working for Partners In Health, a non-profit organization focusing on international health and social justice. Starting with her co-op experience while she was an undergraduate, Ann has been designing a wastewater treatment plant for a teaching hospital in a region in Haiti that has been recently ravaged by cholera. Ann spends about a quarter of her time in Haiti, overseeing the construction of the treatment plant that will be vital for the safe operation of the hospital. Ann’s project highlights some of the differences between working in the developing world versus in the U.S.


Source: News @ Northeastern

Human­i­tarian projects in devel­oping coun­tries, such as building a potable water system in Africa or a new hos­pital in Haiti, require devel­opers to con­sider a unique set of concerns.

“When you’re working in a devel­oping country, you have to approach things com­pletely dif­fer­ently,” said 2011 civil engi­neering grad­uate Ann Polaneczky, a project engi­neer for Part­ners in Health, a nonprofit international health and social justice orga­ni­za­tion. “Your approach has to address anthro­po­log­ical and cul­tural con­cerns because if you just try to apply what works here in the United States, you’re not going to succeed.”

Polaneczky began working with Part­ners in Health as a co-​​op stu­dent tasked with designing a waste­water treat­ment plant for a hos­pital the non­profit was building in Mire­balais, Haiti. The country lacks a cen­tral­ized civil infra­struc­ture system, and the hos­pital needed help removing its sewage, which if pumped into a river could cause severe med­ical con­di­tions like cholera.

After grad­u­a­tion, Polaneczky joined Part­ners in Health in a full-​​time capacity. Now she visits Haiti for approx­i­mately one week each month, over­seeing the imple­men­ta­tion of her designs in the hos­pital, which is nearly fin­ished. “It’s amazing to be walking around in your own draw­ings,” she said.

Over the next six to 12 months, Polaneczky and her co-​​workers will ensure that the hos­pital is fully func­tional, devel­oping sys­tems and processes to guar­antee the facility remains capable of serving the health needs of its patients. World leaders including World Bank Pres­i­dent Jim Yong Kim and Haitian Pres­i­dent Michel Joseph Martelly have noted that the facility’s ser­vices are unmatched throughout the nation.

“This hos­pital will offer crit­i­cally impor­tant ser­vices,” Polaneczky said. “It’s the only endoscopy lab in the country, and the hos­pital has the only neonatal inten­sive care unit. It’s one of the few places where emer­gency rooms will be able to per­form Cae­sarian sec­tions and help preg­nant women and their chil­dren who might oth­er­wise not survive.”

As a North­eastern stu­dent, Polaneczky served as pres­i­dent of the university’s chapter of Engi­neers Without Bor­ders, over­seeing devel­op­ment projects in Africa and Hon­duras. In 2010, the national orga­ni­za­tion named her one of nine “Emerging Leaders,” citing her work to create infra­struc­ture that changed the lives of people in the devel­oping world.

“These projects are impor­tant to me because I can see the impact,” Polaneczky said. It’d be hard to get the same sat­is­fac­tion from doing some­thing like fixing a side­walk so that it meets ADA spec­i­fi­ca­tions com­pared to pro­viding water to an entire vil­lage or health­care where it’s needed most.”