The Developing World Healthcare Technologies Lab at Duke University

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SEATTLE — Nestled in quaint Durham, North Carolina, Duke University has earned global renown for its successful basketball team and top-notch academics. Beyond offering challenging curricula, Duke also fosters opportunities for its students to change the world. The Developing World Healthcare Technologies Lab at Duke (DHT Lab) is a program, belonging to the university’s Pratt School of Engineering, that seeks to comprehensively address technical problems that hinder healthcare in the developing world.

“If you have ever been to the doctor, you know how important technology is to health,” Dr. Robert Malkin, a biomedical engineering professor at Duke, told The Borgen Project. “Nearly every healthcare challenge that we face requires functioning technology to overcome it.”

The keyword here is “functioning.” The World Health Organization estimates that 80 percent of the medical technology in developing nations is donated. However, hospitals receiving donated equipment are not usually supplied with spare parts for medical machines or given information on how to repair them. When the donated medical equipment falls into disrepair, it congests hospital corridors and benefits no one. According to a study conducted in 2011, approximately 40 percent of all medical equipment in the developing world is out of order.

Engineering World Health (EWH), an organization created in the DHT Lab at Duke, seeks to remedy the problem of defunct medical equipment. EWH provides biomedical equipment technician training programs in Nicaragua, Cambodia, Rwanda and other countries which teach healthcare providers how to maintain medical machines. The organization has also created an online resource library for hospital technicians in the developing world.

The Developing World Healthcare Technologies Lab at Duke does not only assist in the improvement of the medical technology that exists in impoverished regions but also creates innovative technology that can bring medical relief to the world’s poor. One such technological invention is the Pratt Pouch, which was lauded by WHO as one of the top 10 most innovative health technologies of 2012.

The Pratt Pouch is a small, specialized packet designed to hold small doses of antiretroviral drugs, which are delivered to infants to prevent the contraction of HIV. Around 90 percent of infants and children infected with HIV become infected through mother-to-child transmission. The Pratt Pouch allows infant-appropriate amounts of antiretroviral drugs to be easily stored, transported and administered to babies shortly after birth, protecting them from contracting HIV from their mothers. According to Malkin, nearly 1 million Pratt Pouches have been sold. “That could mean one million times that the transmission was interrupted,” he says.

Universities are hubs of creative intellectual discussion and investigation that have the ability to benefit not only those who attend them but also the world. The DHT Lab at Duke is a prime example of how academic pursuits fuel global improvement. Despite the contributions Duke’s medical technologies program has already made to improve healthcare in the developing world, Malkin assures that it will continue to move forward. “We are always looking for new technologies to work with,” he says.

The world can’t wait to see what the Developing World Healthcare Technologies Lab at Duke will accomplish next.

Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

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Mary Efird

Mary lives in Columbia, South Carolina. She graduated from the Honors College at the University of South Carolina with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences and a minor in Anthropology. Mary is particularly interested in scientific journalism. Mary spent the summer after her sophomore year of college doing medical volunteer work in impoverished regions of Guatemala.

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