Medical Equipment in Developing Nations

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HAITI — Broken and unusable medical devices fill hallways of many hospitals in Haiti. When Haiti experienced a major earthquake in 2010, international aid organizations quickly donated medical equipment to help the devastated country. Unfortunately, most of the equipment was incompatible with the hospitals’ power grid or was missing repair parts.

Haiti is not the only country experiencing an overload of impractical medical equipment. Other developing nations encounter the same problem. Good intentions produce negative results when donated equipment does not operate properly in the country. Advanced equipment may damage the hospital’s power system and broken equipment clogs storage space for necessary supplies.

Mike Miesen, writer for The Atlantic, describes a hospital he visited in Uganda. In describing the maternity and neonatal intensive care units, he states that “20 incubators are arranged like Tetris pieces; most were donated by NGOs and bilateral agencies like USAID. Many lay open, and the silence is interrupted only by the cries of newborns; no sound emanates from the machines.” The equipment, broken or incompatible with the hospital’s power system, remained unused even when desperately needed.

Several organizations, including Medical Bridges- Aid for Africa, MedShare and Global Health Ministries, facilitate medical device and supplies donation programs to developing nations. They give disposable supplies, providing immediate relief for hospitals, as well as medical machines, providing more intensive care. These machines, however, require technical assistance and spare parts.

The World Health Organization estimated that 70 percent of medical equipment donated to developing nations is unusable. The World Health Organization, however, also estimated that 10 million children in the developing world die due to inadequate medical care.

MedShare, an organization that strives to improve global health care via the distribution of medical supplies, states that their “shipments of medical supplies and equipment have decreased our carbon footprint and brought healing and the promise of better lives to 95 countries and countless patients.” Developing nations need the medical equipment as well as solutions to receiving appropriate equipment and repairs.

As a solution to this disconnect between hospitals in developing nations and medical distribution nonprofits, the World Health Organization provides medical donation guidelines for organizations. The guidelines state that donated equipment must be in an acceptable condition for the country of origin’s standards and be items that the receiving country needs. Furthermore, the document recommends that organizations follow up with the donated item in the country for repairs and parts. Organizations should also donate items in response to individual hospital needs and requests rather than sending mass donations based on the organization’s supply.

According to Meisen, some organizations, including International Aid and C.U.R.E, have also created programs to solve the issue of discarded medical equipment. Since many of these countries do not have the parts or local technicians to repair broken medical devices, these organizations now consistently supply some of the hospitals with spare parts and paper products for donated machines. These reforms to medical donation programs will, ideally, create a better aid system for hospitals in developing nations.

Sources: Global Health Ministries, Scientific America, Aid for Africa, MedShare Medical Relief, The Atlantic, WHO 1, WHO 2
Photo: Network Global Logistics

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