The Hubert Foundation is taking part in HelloMask, a research project run by the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne – EPFL in conjunction with the Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology.
The inspiration behind the project was the experience of Diane Bataard, a storyteller for sick children.
Working with young patients who were in hospital for serious illnesses and needing complex treatments, she observed what an extremely anxious experience hospitalisation was for children.
The power of a smile
The HelloMask project came out of this realisation and the importance of being able to establish a relationship of trust between young patients and the people caring for them. It is widely accepted that these relationships are based not only on verbal relationships but also non-verbal communication, gestures, attitudes and above all, facial expressions.
Childhood cancer is a source of huge psychological stress for children and their parents, not only as a life-threatening disease but also because of the complexity of treatment. Every day, carers witness expressions of distress in their patients both at the point of diagnosis and throughout the treatment process.
For these children, being surrounded by strangers wearing masks is another source of anxiety that could be mitigated with a simple smile.
A new type of mask
The aim of the HelloMask project is to develop a transparent mask that would allow patients to see the faces of their carers and visitors. By establishing less stressful relationships with the people around them in the hospital, young patients’ overall condition could be significantly improved.
Apart from being used in our hospitals, this type of mask could also be used in other parts of the world where there are conflicts or epidemics like the Ebola virus, which needed carers to cover their face and body completely when approaching patients.
Further research to make the project a reality
HelloMask recently won the first Debiopharm-Inartis Challenge Prize
2016 (http://challenges.inartis.ch), for “Patient quality of life during treatment”.
The award has allowed the HelloMask team to carry out preliminary tests to confirm the technical feasibility of the approach.
The success of the project will now rely on developing and using a new type of material that is both transparent and acts as a filter: a real technological challenge that the FHT is keen to help tackle.