Category Archives: Hospital

Challenges Working in a Hospital in a Low Income Country

By Michael Kosteljanetz

Originally Published: April 10th 2014

 Editors Note: Michael Kosteljanetz is Senior Consultant, Dr. Med. Sci. at the Department of Neurosurgery at Rigshospitalet University Hospital in Copenhagen. On several occasions, Michael has been working and teaching in Rwanda and Ethiopia, where his expertise in his profession is an urgent needed. Michael here describes his experiences with the challenges of working at a hospital in a ressource-poor setting. This article was originally written for students at the Engineering World Health Chapter at the Technical University of Denmark to prepare them for working in developing country hospitals, however it is highly interesting material for anyone with just a slight interest in developing countries!


It would not be fair to judge the entire developing world based on personal experience which stems from a brief stay in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, where I worked at a private Christian hospital and a large public university hospital and three stays in Kigali, Rwanda, where I have worked for a total of 6 months in a public, teaching hospital as participant in a large American-Rwandan project. My daily work takes place in the hospital’s surgical department.

Rwanda’s situation may be different from the situation in other African countries, because the shortage of health personnel here largely is a consequence of the genocide in 1994, where approximately one million people were killed, and among them a great number of health workers. Besides, a great number of people fled to the neighbouring countries and Europe or America.

In many ways Rwanda is a well organized country, partly because of its small size, approximately 2/3 of Denmark. It is very densely populated, almost 11 million people live there. There is a network of roads, the main roads are paved and there is a well developed network of buses that takes you almost anywhere in the country. Mobile phone penetration is around 50% (in 2012), internet approximately 10%.

In my specialty, neurosurgery, there are two neurosurgeons that serve the population, both work in the capital Kigali, where one million people lives. One works at a private hospital, the other at the university hospital. The two departments are affiliated and patients can be transferred from one hospital to the other under certain circumstances.

The hospital where I worked is one of 3 or 4 greater referral hospitals. The country has a great number of health centres, more than 40 district hospitals, most of them run by nurses and general practitioners, who can perform a limited number of operations, e.g. caesarian section. In a few district hospitals there are surgeons who can perform ”neurosurgical” operations e.g. shunts for hydrocephalus.

Although the economy is growing, the country is still poor, the average income being 1/30 of that in Denmark, which of course has major influence on the quality of healthcare delivered. More than 90% of the population has a health insurance, which is very uncommon for an African country. In most cases the patients have to pay 10% of the expenses, which in a poor country like Rwanda may be more than they can afford, even though it amounts to what we would consider a minor expense, say 50 or 100$.

The University Hospital of Kigali, Rwanda was originally built almost 100 years ago and almost all buildings which are pavilions are more than 70 years old, which means that facilities and logistics are far from satisfactory. Most rooms have 8 or more beds. Washing and toilet facilities are of course very scarce.

There is one CT scanner at the university hospital, however, it may not always work. X-ray films are not always available, so most often it is not possible to get print-outs of the scan. Even if one gets one it will only depict a fraction of the entire examination; as a consequence not all aspects and angles of the disease are depicted, sometimes making it very difficult for the surgeon to make a professional decision based on the CT, just as surgical and treatment planning may be challenging. X-rays and scans cannot be transmitted electronically, so in order to discuss a case with a colleague, say when a transfer is considered, one has to take a photo of the scan on one’s smart-phone and send it and again, for which reason the image quality is a challenge. If the patient needs a MR scan they have to go to the private hospital where the only MR in the country is, but the same remarks that apply for CT goes for the MR as well.

The Operation Theater was built in 2009, but in spite of that it is already worn down, most likely because it was built with the poor materials. Many of the tiles in the floor are broken, so that water can collect in the small cavities that have been formed, the humidity has penetrated the ceiling in the theatres so that there is visible mould in most operating rooms. Because of the humidity, but probably also because of poor quality, whatever that can rust has become rusty; the wheels on most tables, where surgical instruments are placed during surgery are broken so hardly any table can roll. Legs of tables and stools are broken or at least most times broken so that they stand askew. The Danish ”Arbejdstilsyn” (Danish Working Enviroment Au- thority, red.) would immediately close the operating theaters due to the electrical installations. Electric lines and sockets runs across the floor even though it is regularly wet from the cleaning and sockets in the walls are faulty. Many of the lights and the operation lamps do not work properly and 1 or 2 out of 4 bulbs often do not work. The doors to all operating theatres are broken, so that they can neither open or close, meaning that they are more or less open most of the time, also during operations, which is practical because the personnel tends to come in and out of the room. Since the sun shines most of the time the room gets hot, and the ventilator switch cannot be reached by most people of average height. The windows have no shadow so the sun shines and sometimes blinds the surgeon.

Operating tables cannot be adjusted electronically as they could when they were new and even to adjust them manually is difficult. Suction equipment which you need to suction away blood during an operation is faulty. The main reason being that the disposable suction tubes, like many other disposable consumables are used not one but several times leading to a change in the stiffness of the tubes, so that they collapse, when suction is activated.

Since the surgical instruments themselves often are robust, made by steel, they are usually working but even simple instruments may not be available.

Now, while you can perform a great number of abdominal operations with a very limited number of instruments, neurosurgery is for the most part a hightech area. Scissors and scalpels almost always work, especially when they are sharpened. Most surgeons use suction, which I have described and a bipolar, which is a kind of electrical tweezers that can burn tissue in a very limited area and thereby induce coagulation of vessels and stop bleeding. Contrary to other surgical fields, bleeding in neurosurgery cannot be stopped by ligature of the bleeding vessel. Our bipolar has been repaired with adhesive tape, so that it works most of the time, which it did not the year before.

Essentially problems related to the operating theaters can be divided into:

  1. Lack of equipment. This can be divided into large, high-tech equipment, which is very expensive to purchase (operating tables, surgical microscope, special aspirators etc) and lesser like normal surgical instruments, hooks etc.
  2. Lack of maintenance.
  3. Lack of sufficient knowledge about the function of the equipment, leading to faulty usage and maintenance.
  4. Lack of renewal/exchange.
  5. Lack of daily consumables that is sutures, gauze, patties (small cotton pieces to protect the tissue, e.g. the brain during surgery).
  6. Lack of special consumables needed for certain operation (e.g. shunts, ventricular drains).
  7. Logistic problems, including storage facilities.
  8. Buildings.
  9. Irregularities in water and electrical supply (rare).
  10. Lack of skilled personel (scrub nurses and anaesthetists).
  11. Lack of facilities for postoperative care and observation (that includes the rooms as well as the personel).

Logistic problems include poor planning and surveillance of the daily surgical plans. If one wanted to be sure that the cases one had planned would be brought to the OR, it was mandatory to be present in the OR, meaning that one could not leave the OR for rounds or seeing patients in the out–patient–clinic while waiting for the preparations for the operation. Because of the long and awkward routes from the wards to the OR (among other things), waiting time before and between operations were often 2-3 hours. Part of the waiting time could sometimes be explained by shortage of a consumable that had to be procured or instruments that were not sterilised.

Roughly the above mentioned can be divided in a) shortage of fundings for buildings, including repair and maintenance b) shortage of skilled personel c) lack of resources for training and education of personel e) logistic problems.

To which extent one or more of these issues are more important than others cannot be concluded from my non-scientific observations, neither can I conclude which means are most appropriate to solve the problems. This will demand further analysis. Considering that Rwanda is a country where the economy is steadily growing there is a chance that some of these problems can be solved because of improved funding but other problems could be dealt with in the meantime.

Note: Neurosurgery is the specialty that deals with the surgical treatment of diseases and congenital conditions and injuries in the central–nervous–system, that is the brain, the nerves, the spinal cord and the surround- ing tissue (meninges and skull and verter- bal bodies). The neurosurgeon removes e.g. tumours, haemorrhages, aneurysms. Some neurosurgeons mainly operate on the spine.

Authored by Michael Kosteljanetz, edited by David Kovacs. Published by the Engineering World Health chapter at the Technical University of Denmark.

Find PDF Version at: challenges-working-hospital.

How Broken Medical Equipment Ends Up in the Worlds Poorest Hospitals

Global Medical Aid (GMA), an aid organization from the Capitol Region of Denmark, was given broken medical equipment and therefore forced to spend their resources separating life-saving medical equipment from useless machines. Unfortunately, not all organisations perform this vital quality control: many donations end up as nothing more than piles of junk at the world’s poorest hospitals.

Medical equipment is extremely valuable and has the potential to significantly improve health care in developing countries. In an effort to aid the world’s poorest health care systems, western hospitals often donate used medical equipment when updating their inventory.

Unfortunately, donations often don’t have the intended positive impact. An example of how donations can end up causing more harm than good was featured on the main Danish news channel DR1:

Aid Organization was Given Broken Medical Equipment: We are Being Used as Landfill

The news story was on national Danish television and radio.

It is described how regional politicians of the Capitol Region of Denmark did not set aside resources for testing of equipment donations before the machines were given to Global Medical Aid (GMA). GMA had to spend a large amount of financial and human resources on separating useful pieces from broken ones —  resources that should have been spent on the transportation of equipment to developing countries. (See translation of the full story at the end of this post).

Not all aid organisations pay third parties to test the quality of their donations as GMA does. Many aid organizations simply ship malfunctioning equipment directly to developing countries without any quality assurance whatsoever.

An example of this is illustrated in the pictures below from Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, taken on the the 30th of December 2014. I am currently working at the hospital with Engineering World Health as part of a six person team of students and professionals from Rochester Institute of Technology, George Mason University, Marquette University and the Technical University of Denmark. We are based at Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City with the aim of placing broken donated equipment back into service.

Broken equipment in the equipment "junk yard" #2
How donations can end up once they reach the target hospital: Broken equipment in the equipment “junk yard” and Hospital Roosevelt in Guatemala City. This photo was taken on the 30th of December 2014.

Already during our first day at the hospital we found vital medical equipment out of use: 14 haemodyalisis machines, 7 vital signs monitors, 4 anaesthesia machines and an incubator. The well-meaning donations are left as junk in the “equipment graveyard” in the back of the hospital.

Another example of failure to target donations properly is shown in the following picture from the same hospital, featuring the pictured dental chair, which is still partly contained in the original wrapping, indicating that the chair has most probably never been used.

This dental chair was donated to Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala and as seen on the picture, it has never been used: Part of the original wrapping is still on there.
This dental chair was donated to Roosevelt National Hospital in Guatemala and as seen on the picture, it has never been used: Part of the original wrapping is still on the chair.

Unfortunately, the problem we are facing at Roosevelt Hospital is not unique. It is seen in developing countries around the world. Leslie Calman, CEO at Engineering World Health, summarises the issue as follows:

“The donation of medical equipment is a generous and well-meaning outpouring of aid, intended to strengthen health care systems, reduce human suffering and extend life-saving remedies to millions. But if not done with care and attendtion to local conditions — including the capacity of local hospitals to install and maintain the equipment —  the generosity may not live up to its donors’ good intentions. The Secretary General of the United Nations has stated that as much as 70% of essential medical equipment is not functioning in the developing world.  Coupled with equipment donations should be an investment in training a local workforce to maintain and service the equipment. This would create local jobs, build skills, improve the environment, and create the conditions in which healthcare can be safely delivered.”

The magnitude of harm caused by faulty equipment donations goes largely unnoticed. To illustrate this, consider the following: According to World Bank, the Danish health care expenditure in 2012 was 11.2% of Danish GDP, accumulating to $6,304 per capita (the corresponding number in the United States is 17.9%). This means that $6304 is spent on health care for every single one of Denmark’s 5.6 million citizens.

$34.65 billion is spent on health care in Denmark every year. Contrary to popular belief, this money is not spent on the high salaries of doctors. Based on the average yearly physician’s salary in Denmark of $85,000 and nurse’s salary set at $54,000, only 18% of the Danish health care expenditure is spent on salaries. The major part of the remaining $28.14 billion is spent on hospital infrastructure and the extremely valuable medical equipment.

My point is not that poor hospitals don’t need equipment donations. Rather, the important aspect to realise is that the donation of advanced technologies is extremely complicated.  Resource-poor health care systems are in need of expertise from professionals who understand advanced health care technologies and the logistical complexity behind donations.

The fact that a vast amount of broken equipment is sent off to fill up the words poorest hospitals without ever being used is ethically irresponsible and indefensible. It is essential that local health care workers, departments, and hospitals ensure that well-meaing donations actually end up fulfilling their life-saving purpose.

Translation of the original story: 

Danish hospitals donate used medical equipment to alleviate poor countries. However, aid organisation warns that the equipment may be dangerous to use.
In a corner of Global Medical Aid's storage halls in Birkerød you'll find more than 30 infusion pumps. They are donated from hospitals in the Capitol Region and should have been sent to poor countries in Africa, but as it turns out, this equipment is completely defective.
The relief organisation Global Medical Aid sends hospital equipment to poor countries around the world. They are now accusing the Capitol Region for using them as a landfill. 
The reason is that the organisation has been given an abundance of used medical equipment that does not work at all. Everything from anaesthesia machines to infusion pumps and defibrillators have turned out to be broken.
"We have obviously been treated as if we were a landfill site, where hospitals could get rid of the equipment they have been storing in basements for years" says Hans Frederik Dydensborg, the president of Global Medical Aid (GMA).The politicians of the region have now decided that medical equipment is to be donated in an ethically responsible way. According to GMA, it is directly unethical when hospitals donate equipment that doesn't work. GMA has incurred large expenses in separating working pieces from broken ones -- money that should have been spent on bringing the equipment to the world’s poorest countries."We have had large amounts of unnecessary expenses, with the consequence being that we haven't been able to send off the containers as expected" says Hans Frederik Dydensborg.In the Capitol Region, the chairman of the IT and debureaucratisation committee, who is responsible for recycling medical equipment, is concerned about the fact some donations have proven to be useless."Of course the equipment must have a certain standard, and of course it to be in a condition such that it can be used" says Lise Müller (Socialist People's Party).To avoid faulty donations in the future, the Capitol Region is now creating a storage hall in order to collect used equipment from hospitals and check it up for errors and deficiencies before they are sent on to aid organisations.In the region of Mid-Jutland, they have good experiences with a corresponding scheme."I am sure that we can find people who could find use of the equipment. If they don't, we will have to throw it out. But of course we have to learn from this, that the equipment we donate is of the right quality" says Lise Müller. The new storage halls will cost about DKK 2 million (USD 330.000) a year to maintain and the money will be found in the 2016 budget of the capitol region.

How to Repair Broken Shielding on ECG Cables

The work done by engineers in a developing country includes a range of smart repairs that help hospitals save significant expenses.

Equipment cables are common examples of broken parts found in developing countries. Just a week ago I described how our group found seven vital signs monitors out of use at Roosevelt National Hospital in Guatemala. This last week, our group found the cables for the monitors, however the shielding on them was broken. The picture on the left shows the cable with broken shielding, while the picture on the right depicts the noisy — and clinically useless — ECG signal.

Buying one new ECG   cable for a patient monitor would cost $51 if purchased on eBay.  However, it is feasible to fix the ECG cables and avoid the cost of purchasing new parts.  In order to do this, we performed three simple steps:

1) Wrap foil carefully around the ECG cables.

2)  Ensure that the foil is electrically connected to the ends of the original ECG cable shielding.

3)  Wrap the foil tightly in electrical tape

The photo on the right shows the resulting ECG signal. The ‘p-q-r-s-t” sequence of a normal ECG signal can be seen on the screen.

The result is still not optimal, as there is residual noise interfering with the signal. Our group is currently investigating ways to make the shielding more effective so that the foil is optimally electrically connected along the entire length of the cables.

The EWH Guatemala Winter Institute 2014/15 Roosevelt Group considering the resulting signal and if it can be further improved.
The EWH Guatemala Winter Institute 2014/15 Roosevelt Group considering the resulting signal and if it can be further improved. Left: Caty Lin – George Mason University, Middle behind: Shanyce Stewart, Rochester Institute of Technology, Middle in front: Becca Avena – Marquette University and Co-op at GE Healthcare, Right: Mohammad Ali – George Mason University.


Projects at Roosevelt Hospital, Guatemala City

Guatemala Log #1

On the first day of the 2014/15 Guatemala Winter institute we had an introductory morning briefing to talk about program details, safety guidelines, culture shock and logistics.

Later on that day we would proceed to Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City, one of the the largest hospitals in Guatemala.

As we arrived, Head of the biomedical engineering department at the hospital, Hector, showed as around and introduced us to several different projects that the EWH engineering team could work on during our three weeks.

The following is a list of the projects we found on the first day at the hospital:

1) 14 Dialysis Machines: In the basement of the hospital we found about 14 dialysis machines out of order. If can put these back into service it will be vital to find and teach a technician at the hospital about the machines as they require continuous maintenance. See picture in the gallery below.

2) 7 vital signs monitors: These machines actually work perfectly (according the emergency department staff) but the cables are destroyed. We are looking into getting a hold of all the cables from the emergency department so that we can find out if we can fix them.

3) The baby bottle project: The baby bottle cleaner of the hospital is broken. 1500 babies need to be fed everyday there are 45 different recipes for the baby food depending on the state of the babies. For example prematurely born babies are prescribed more oily food. Thus the department staff must manually clean 1500 bottles a day. They don’t have any proper substitute tools and it gets really difficult to clean the baby bottles. See pictures in the gallery below.

4) Tortilla machine (kitchen): This machine is working but the tortillas are sticking to each other and one side was burned more than the other. Sometimes the tortillas are cut in half. In effect a lot of dough is wasted. See picture in the gallery below.

5) Bread oven (kitchen): Issues with the temperature regulation.

6) The outside yard with broken medical equipment: Most of the equipment has been outside in the rain and it has become rusty.  It is likely though that there are several valualble spare parts in the “junk yard”.  See pictures in the gallery below.

Additionally a pre-trip equipment assessment was made by biomedical Joe Leier who is assisting EWH 2014/15 Winter Institute. 

7) Three additional vital signs monitors.

8) Seven suction pumps.

9) Three defibrilators were found, condition onknown.

10) Five Electrocardiographs.

For now we will start working on projects 1, 2  and 4. I will follow the progress of the projects here on this site. Stay tuned!

Traveling to Rukum: Nepal Youth Foundation

Today we will arrive in Rukum, traveling through Lamahi, Ghori, Tulsipur, Shitalpati, and Kotmola before reaching our destination of Jumlikhalanga.  Here we we will visit the local district hospital to identify areas of need.  Our meetings with the NRC and the district officer Mr. Bharat will help us understand more about the infrastructure in the region and determine where we can travel to and how we can get there.

On our way to Jumlikhalanga, we visited the Nepali Youth Foundation (NYF) nutrition center in Ghorani.  The center admits malnourished children and their mothers for free for periods of around three months while the children are nurtured back to health.  During this time, the mothers are educated on how to cook inexpensive but nourishing food.

During our trip, we will work with the NYF to identify malnourished children, who will then be transported to the center with their mothers free of charge.

Paediatric Size Blood Pressure Cuffs and Pulse Oximeters

Paediatric Blood Pressure Cuffs and Pulse Oximeters, KCMC, Moshii, Tanzania
Sister Petrolina, Head of the Paediatric Department at the KCMC with paediatric size blood pressure cuffs and clip-on pulse oximeters.

Shortly before we left the KCMC this August, we found out that it was not rare for hospitals to be lacking various equipment in paediatric size. In consequence it would not be possible to measure the oxygen saturation and blood pressure of children. In some cases lack of paediatric size tubes made it impossible to intubate children in need of a ventilator to assist their breathing.

Most of these products could probably be made pretty easily with a bit of creativity. This should give ideas for some design projects for most biomedical/design engineers.

We had a small budget for our various projects from the EWH and we decided to spend what we had left to buy blood pressure cuffs in paediatric size and clip-on pulse oximeters for the paediatric department at KCMC.

When Toys are Not Just Toys

Around the world LEGO Company is famous for inspiring creativity through play. Nowadays LEGO is also being used widely for educational purposes. In Tanzania, I found a new use of LEGO that I would have never imagined possible.

This summer I was one of six students from EWH DTU participating in the annual Engineering World Health Summer Institute in Tanzania. We brought 27 kgs of LEGO bricks from LEGO Charity with us. During our stay, we found schools and orphanages to which we could donate the LEGO bricks.

In one case, however, the LEGO bricks could be used for purpose more serious than pure entertainment. I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Marieke Dekker, currently the only paediatric neurologist in all of Tanzania – a country with a population of almost 50.000.000.

Dr. Marieke Dekker works with hundreds of children with serious neurological disorders in her work. As a neurologist she uses the LEGO bricks to test fine motor skills and cognition of the children. She is able to asses their development and at the same time give them a once in a lifetime gift that brings great joy. Many Tanzanian children have never seen, let alone owned, toys before:

According to Dr. Marieke Dekker, “LEGO bricks are a great success, especially here, dealing with children suffering from neurological disease. Neurological conditions are often well visible and they are known to cause stigmatisation in African society – it is a huge social problem.”

The stigmatisation of these conditions, even by family members, complicates many children’s access to care. As Dr. Marieke Dekker points out, cerebral palsy is the most common paediatric neurological disorder in Africa. The disease is primarily caused by poor perinatal circumstances and healthcare. The severeness of cerebral palsy is varying results in cognitive, behavioural and learning disabilities. Children with less severe cerebral palsy have proved to be a very successful target group for LEGO bricks.

The LEGO bricks allow doctors like Marieke to assess motor skills, as it “‘breaks the ice’ in the patient-therapist relation and the ultimate joy is to be given the toy upon going home.” says Marieke.

In many cases, the cerebral palsy can be devastating, rendering a child dependent on care around the clock. This group is unfortunately also very common in Africa, mostly concerning school-age children with spinal cord problems. Due to dangerous traffic, falling from trees (harvesting fruits, a major part of African diet), tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, a disproportionate number of children are paraplegic and wheelchair-bound for life.

“Since there is no rehabilitation medicine in Tanzania, they remain in-patients until the family cannot pay the hospital bill anymore, or until they die from pneumonia or infected pressure sores. Many of these children were given LEGO bricks. They built, rebuilt, remodelled and rearranged… it gave them and their caretakers a spark of joy in a circumstance of misery.”  says Marieke Dekker.

Marieke’s patients truly benefit from using the LEGO bricks in the clinic professionally as well as psychologically. It means infinitely much to children to whom such toys would never be affordable, let alone available.

Marieke, the EWH DTU chapter, and I wish to continue this collaboration by bringing LEGO bricks with us to the Summer Institute in Tanzania in years to come!

All photos were taken and published in this article with consent from patients and parents.

What’s it Like to Work in a Developing Country Hospital?

It is now a little more than a week ago that I returned from and unforgettable journey to Africa. It’s been such a journey that expands horizons, gives new perspectives, creates new visions and changes beliefs and values. During my stay I worked for a month at local hospitals, an experience that was different in so many ways from what I had expected.

Prior to our placements at local hospitals the students of the 2014 EWH summer institute (myself included) took part in a month-long educational course on “Engineering in the Developing World” and an introductory Swahili course – a program which proved to be of considerable advantage as we were soon to develop a trusting relationship with the departments we would come to work for.
After this first month of education I was moved to my placement along with my group, which besides myself consisted of a student from Duke and one from Harvard. We were to work in two hospitals: Kilimanjaro Christianity Medical Centre (KCMC) and Mawenzi Hospital, both situated in the town of Moshi, Kilimanjaro region.
The KCMC is one of the largest and most prestigious institutions in Tanzania and has a biomedical engineering department consisting of 30 engineers and technicians. Despite good will and hard work from the department, it was obvious that we could do much in both hospitals, just as we could learn a lot from them. Our group alone repaired more than 60 pieces of equipment during our stay. Overall, this year’s EWH summer program returned 4,200 pieces of equipment amounting to 8.6 milion according to the latest figures from EWH.
If I was to draw one conclusion about medical equipment in developing countries today, I would say that it simply should not be allowed to donate without informing properly about that specific piece of equipment in the local language (or in English, at the least):
In so many places we found rooms and whole warehouses filled with piles of medical devices. To our surprise, very often these devices could be put back into service by simple mechanical repairs. We even found completely new operating theatres that could not be used because they were packed full of unused equipment. I was left behind wondering if donations do any good at all – or if they do more harm than good. During our month at the hospital we slowly started to learn the reasons why these equipments weren’t in use: How were people supposed know how to use a piece equipment, if they had no manual for it? Or how could they use a machine, if the user interface was in Dutch or in German? When a repair was to be done after all, many reported difficulties and bureaucratic systems when having to acquire replacement parts, such as a lightbulb for a microscope.
The type of problem that could arise when departments were not provided information about new technologies became clear to me one day at the KCMC, when our group was asked to repair an Infant Warmer from GE. We were told the following: The department had received a completely new machine and put it into a small room where they normally observed newborns in the early hours after a birth. But when the staff began to use it, the machine heated the room up to a temperature so high, that it was unbearable to stay in there.
The solution turned out to be immensely simple: the skin-temperature sensor had mistakenly been placed under the bedside, and had to be moved to the skin of the newborn – otherwise the device would constantly work to achieve a temperature of 35.5 degrees under the bed instead of on the baby’s skin. Thus the machine was heating on and on (and on…).
After having cleared out this first misunderstanding, we explained that the machine could not, as some thought, be used to take X-rays images, but that it merely contained a tray for a detector plate so that you weren’t forced to move the baby around unnecessarily,  and that the machine could not calculate an APGAR-score, but that it contains a stopwatch simply to help you with the task. The problem wasn’t lack of education or ability to understand how a machine works. It was simply the fact that people were not provided the necessary information. Even if some information was provided, it was not done properly: How is a nurse going to read a 500 page manual, while working in a ward full of women in labour? Seeing this and other similar cases, one of our main focuses became developing quick start guides in order to provide departments with a fast and simple way of knowing how to use a device.
Another typical issue that we encountered was how departments virtually never took advantage of vital signs monitors and ECG’s because they had run out of the necessary electrically conductive gel. There are a number of alternatives to conductive gel – in principle anything that contains electrolytes, for example aloe vera or ketchup, can be used. It should have been obvious however (as I did not first think of), that most doctors and patients do not want to use these methods, as they are uncomfortable and inconvenient. I remember explaining to a doctor how he could make his own electrically conductive gel using water, flour and salt. His response: “Is that really recommended?”. Imagine his reaction, had I recommended him to use ketchup. In addition, many Africans are proud people to whom one can and should not just offer anything (just as one would probably not do anyone at home). Therefore, developing a gel that is more likely to be used clinically, and in addition could be produced cheaply using local materials, would be an example of a simple and small, but valuable project for developing world hospitals (while you can find alternatives to conductive gels, I still haven’t seen one that actually looks like the gel that is used in clinics). Notably the KCMC already had the means to produce their own ultrasound gel (which is acoustically and not electrically conductive) so they shouldn’t be too far away from being able to produce their own conductive gel too.
This and many other projects are still to be carried out to make the daily life at a these hospitals run smoothly. Here I have given just two examples of what it can be like to work in the developing world. So many ways remain in which one can help this  parallel world of ours, in which resources are so scarce that we are constantly forced to think in new and innovative ways to provide the best possible health care for the all people.

Fixes in Moshi, KCMC and Mawenzi


The last couple of weeks have been stuffed with interesting fixes and great experiences in Moshi, KCMC and Mawenzi, Here are some of my favourite photos.