GE-funded NGO aims to repair developed-world medical devices in the developing world

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An Engineering World Health trainer explains how to use a medical device in Cambodia.--Courtesy of EWH

General Electric's ($GE) $2 billion commitment to invest in Africa includes the launch of a program to train biomedical engineering technicians in Nigeria, where patients are dying of treatable conditions because the devices to treat them are left unfixed due to a lack of know-how, according to a prominent nongovernmental organization.

"You have women dying of preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure [in pregnant women] because nobody's ever taken their blood pressure because nobody has a blood pressure cuff that works," said Leslie Calman in an interview with FierceMedicalDevices. She is the CEO of Engineering World Health, which will run the initiative in partnership with Nigeria's Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

Between 40% and 70% of hospital equipment in the developing world isn't working, Calman said. With the GE Foundation's financial support, the NGO is already training technicians in Rwanda, Ghana, Honduras and Cambodia to fix devices from pulse oximeters to X-rays. "The goal is creating a sustainable biomedical capacity in those countries," she said. "In Rwanda, for instance, we have trained 60 BMETs (biomedical engineering technicians) in a country that has 60 BMETs."

Engineering World Health exits a country once it believes that training can be conducted by locals on an ongoing basis. This typically takes about three years of programming, Calman said. A Duke University study by professor Robert A. Malkin found that the initiative reduced the amount of out-of-service medical equipment by 30% to 40% in hospitals where the NGO operated.

A lot of the medical equipment used in developing world hospitals is refurbished or donated, and they rely on electricians or lay mechanics limited to making simple fixes. Common problems include electrical outages and clogged tubes due to unsteady current, high temperature, humidity and undistilled water. Another hurdle is manuals that are only written in English.

"You go into any intensive care unit in a developing-world hospital and you'll see two or three infants in an incubator, which doesn't work," Calman said, adding that studies show that shared incubators result in a 17% increase an infant mortality.

Engineering World Health is aiming to expand the training program to more countries and has had discussions with leaders in Vietnam and Madagascar, according to Calman. "With GE's blessing we are hoping to find additional funders," she said.

GE made the decision to focus on Nigeria. "I think it's fair to say that companies that sell these machines in the developing world have recognized an interest in the developing world. There's a philanthropic impulse, but I suspect it's also a business consideration. If people are trained on your machines, they are more likely to purchase your machines," Calman said, although the training isn't restricted to GE equipment.

The Engineering World Health CEO said med tech company employees can help by volunteering to be one of the trainers who teach the upcoming generation of developing-world biomedical engineering technicians.

- read the release from Engineering World Health
- get the release from the GE Foundation
- here's the release from GE about the commitment to investing $2 billion in Africa

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