Making a Useful Medical Device for the Developing World
My team and I are hard at work on our continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine for low-resource settings. Reading a journal article titled “Effectiveness of medical equipment donations to improve health systems: how much medical equipment is broken in the developing world?” by Lora Perry and Robert Malkin, I was struck by the difficulties inherent in creating a useful medical device for the developing world. There is a fine line between creating a device that is useful in a lab versus creating a device that is useful in the field. Obviously people donate medical equipment to the developing world with the best interests in mind, but the article stated that an average of 38% of the equipment was out of service. The article highlighted three main reasons why a medical device would be out of service in the developing world: infrastructure and resources, health technology management, and training.
First, one of the most cited reason for a piece of equipment being out of service is lack of spare parts. Obviously the poor infrastructure in low-resource settings necessitates that the device be self-sustaining. Second, many devices did not receive the preventative maintenance they required to function properly. This could be helped by making a device require little maintenance, and the little maintenance the device requires should be very easy to perform and remember. On top of this, 50% of operator manuals were reported missing from their respective devices. The last big problem was that of lack of training. Technicians with even minimal training were reported to be rare.
Finding out what medical donations do not work can be very instrumental in helping to discover what makes a good medical device in a low-resource setting. This is the type of thing that my team and I are keeping in mind as we continue to work on our cost-effective CPAP.