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Where a Donkey Ambulance Means Progress

Rough Ride But Low Fuel Consumption

POINTING OUT THAT 75% OF MEDICAL DEVICES that are donated to hospitals in poor and underdeveloped countries are unsuitable or do not even function, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK) organized a one-day conference in London this week. They brought together engineers, health workers, donors and charities to look at devices specifically designed for the developing world.

The Guardian reports:

Professor Chris Lavy, an orthopaedic surgeon who spent years working in Africa, gives a vivid example of inappropriate medical technology for the developing world.

One of the newest hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa, he points out, was built with infrared sensors to turn the taps on in the operating theatres. "Wonderful idea, but is it really appropriate in a country where there are no other infrared controlled taps and no engineer to fix them," he asks rhetorically. "Within a year most of them had failed, some in the off position and some in the on position."

It is a familiar problem. A well-meaning donor gives a shiny new piece of equipment to a poor country only for it to gather dust. Parts that are expensive and difficult to replace, the need for a constant electricity supply, a lack of trained operators, unsuitability to rough terrain are all factors preventing the use of these devices in the developing world.

Some of the ideas that were considered at the conference were a heart-monitoring device that uses the microphone in a cellphone as a stethoscope and sends the telemetry directly over the phone connection to the doctor, who could be thousands of miles away, and a solar-powered hearing aid.

They also discussed the design of a seat that turns a donkey into an ambulance for areas where vehicles are unable to go. 

"For years, many hospitals around the world have been forced to rely on inappropriate hand-me-downs from richer countries, but what use is an ambulance to a village with no paved roads, or a dialysis machine to a clinic with no mains electricity," asks Patrick Finlay, medical division chairman of the conference.

Read the full story that includes links HERE.

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