As described extensively on this blog, working in a developing country hospital is not always easy.
In effect, it always results in a great sensation of success, when one suddenly finds a hidden stash of valuable – yes – cables. Exactly that happened when our group found the ECG’s cables and power supplies shown in the pictures below.
Box of Cables
In a storage room at the emergency department of the hospital we found 7 vital signs monitors, 7 Power supplies, 2 pulse-oximeters and 3 ECG cables in woking condition. Unfortunately, all remaining cables for the seven machines were broken, an example of which (an SPO2 sensor/pulse-oximeter) is shown here.
Pulseoximeter with broken connection
Pulseoximeter with broken connection #2
Becca Cleaning Cables
ECG cables broken.
From all the parts we had an fixed we managed partially assemble 5 working Vital Signs Monitors: Two of them were put back in to service with pulse-oximetry and ECG working, 3 of them with ECG only. Unfortunately the department didn’t have any compatible blood pressure cuffs, so we would have to buy new ones, just as we wouls need additional pulseoximeters and ECG cables.
Vital signs monitors are fairly simple pieces of medical equipment, however the cheapest completely refurbished set found on eBay that is corresponding to these machines is $3.503.
Thus having these pieces in working condition would have an extremely high value to Roosevelt Hospital. Meanwhile the cheapest prices on eBay for replacement parts, that we need to put all of these vital signs monitors back into service, are found for $24 (SPO2) + $54.50 (ECG) + $12.5 (Blood pressure cuffs).
In “How to repair shielding on ECG cables and leads” I described how we we repaired three sets of cables. The fixes were good, but not perfect in that we did make the cables work, but the signal was still somewhat noisy, for which reason the machines couldn’t have been used in surgery and detailed diagnosetics – rather they were useful for general “simple” monitoring.
Considereing the fixed cables as being in working condition (a somewhat noisy signal is, after all, better than no signal at all), we now just needed 2 ECG cables, 5 SPO2 censors and 7 blood pressure cuffs to make all of these machines work.
The total cost of this according to the prices on eBay would be just $321, although with used parts.
Considering that a completely new refurbished set on eBay costs 3.503, the value of these equipments reach $24521 in order to buy seven of these machines.
By repairing these machines our team achieved 79x value for money (even though the fix wasn’t perfect).
Now, I thought this story would end here, when, out of the blue, I received an email from Mr. Juan Fernández at Spacelabs Healthcare in Latin America, who wrote that they would be able to send the broken parts to us — free of charge! We could now make all the machines work perfectly (with no noise on the line). My collegue in Guatemala, biomedical engineer and expert technician Mr. Joe Leier will receive and bring this donation to Roosevelt Hospital as soon as possible.
I want to thank the people, that have been a part of saving these machines: my collegues Ms. Rebecca Avena and Mr. Joe Leir and Mr. Juan Fernandez at Spacelabs. We at EWH and Roosevelt hospital we are extremely thankful for this donation, which now means that Roosevelt hospital has 7 fully refurbished, high quality patient monitors working in their emergency department.
Discovering that the monitors and power supplies work
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:
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.
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.
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.
Noisy ECG signal found when using the broken cable
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
Wrapping the cable in aluminum foil.
Fixating the aluminum foil tightly with electrical tape.
The improved signal with aluminum foil.
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.
During our first day at the hospital we’ve been working on two projects:
The Vital signs monitors.
The emergency department of Roosevelt hospital has received seven vital signs monitors as donations. They suspect the machines should be working fine, however the cables for measuring oxygen saturation, ECG and oxygen saturation are broken. Unfortunately we cannot test these machines as the power supplies are missing.
Furthermore only managed to collect one set of cables in condition good enough for them to be reapaired and unfortunately buying new ones would cost hundreds of dollars per machine.
For now the strategy will be to get a DC power supply for the machine as quickly as possible (18 V, 2,7A) and then we will try to get just one machine up and running.
The wire shielding was completely tangled up so we had to removed it.
Unfortunately we can’t currently test the machine as we need a power supply. We should be able to buy thit on day 3 at the hospital.
The manual showing which power supply is needed for the machine.
The 13-17 dialysis machines
I have seen thirteen machines with my own eyes, some say however that the hospital has 17 Dexter 1550 type dyalisis machines. We started out trouble shooting two of the machines that looked as if they were in a proper condition.
The machines are quite old old but some of them are in a surprisingly good condition. Currently the haemodialysis department is renting machines from an external company, which is expensive, so it is our hope that we can help the hospital by getting their own machines working and thereby save some expenses.
Unfortunately we are currently in doubt whether or not the consumable products are necessary to use the machine are available.
For now however, we are still testing the machine!
Stay tuned for the coming updates for the continuation of these projects and the initiation on the baby-bottle project!
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!
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.
Broken equipment in the equipment “junk yard” with the EWH 2014/15 WI Roosevelt group
Broken equipment in the equipment “junk yard” #3
Broken equipment in the equipment “junk yard” #2
Broken equipment in the equipment “junk yard”
Baby bottles ready for take-off.
Baby bottles and the broken cleaner
Baby bottles, 1500 pr. day.
A Baby-bottle cleaner, details.
Kitchen at Roosevelt Hospital
The Taco machine at the kitchen that produces tacos for 1500 meals a day #2
The Taco machine at the kitchen that produces tacos for 1500 meals a day #1
Muhammed from my group at Roosevelt Hospital with 14 Haemoadialysis machines, all out of order.
Hallways in the basement of Rossevelt Hospital.
Department of Ophthalmology at Roosevelt Hospital, Guatemala.
Antigua, Guatemala: Site of the Engineering World Health Winter Institute in 2015. The coming two weeks 15 engineering students from around the world are going to put broken medical equipment back into service to aid the Guatemalan health care system.
Getting to Guatemala was probably the longest flight of my life. The trip started in Copenhagen at 3:30, went through Amsterdam and Atlanta to finally reach Guatemala Airport at 8:30 in the evening. Once I arrived in Guatemala I had been on the way for 24 hours exactly.
Antigua is like a small and very romantic town. It could have in Spain apart from the fact that’s it’s surrounded by volcanos(!) Very cool. Have a look at the Gallery! It gives a quite nice impression of small and romantic Antigua.
On the way to the Central Park
The Central park #1
The Central park #2
The Central park #3
The Central park #4
The Church at the The Central park
The Central park #5
The Central park #6
In Antigua there’s a Volcano at the end of the street!
AHCN and davidkvcs (author) is back after an unpleasantly long break due to a December exam-period.
Starting tomorrow you can expect 20+ updates on behalf of Access Health Care coming to you directly from Nepal.
From February you will find updates from Guatemala, where I will be working with Engineering World Health from December 28 – January 20.
davidkvcs.com has been growing rapidly these past six months, and I am looking very much forward to the upcoming year. Overall I will have a large range of exciting articles and posts coming up about developing countries, culture, health care and international development.
I can’t wait to share all this content with you all!
With warm regards
"It needs to be done, and not enough folks are doing it."