Changing the world health landscape with engineering world health

Summer EWH participants often find that they are tested in unexpected ways; Working with the few resources at their disposal forces them to be creative and really think outside the box to solve real word problems. Last summer, a group of students reclaimed unused IV poles to create hand sanitizing stations at the assignment hospital. Another example is blood pressure cuffs, a commonly used item that is typically discarded at the end of its life. In the USA, a blood pressure cuff is not an item that a technician can repair – it is relatively inexpensive and is easily replaced. In rural Uganda, however, these straps can be difficult to find. EWH volunteers have discovered that if they can’t find a replacement, a punctured cuff can be used with a bicycle tube repair kit. Although this is not seen as a long-term solution, it can keep the patient under observation until a replacement cuff can be obtained from a larger city. In a small clinic with only one patient follow-up, this can make all the difference. These problem-solving skills will ultimately make them better engineers in their future careers in research and development or manufacturing.

In fact, most engineering students are not directly employed in global health, and do not see global health as a viable career path, instead often turning to higher-paying opportunities in the corporate, technology, and industrial sectors. However, engineers, regardless of their role, have a part to play in improving healthcare delivery around the world. Engineers can make a real impact on global health by considering the challenges of scarce resources in their designs and fighting for greater access. How many power surges can your design withstand before it fails? Does it stand outside a clean, temperature-controlled operating room? Does it have too many parts that need to be replaced often if these parts cannot be imported? We need to start designing the whole world in mind, developing solutions that work in difficult environments.

However, to make a long-term impact on underserved health care systems, we need to strengthen local capacity to keep critical medical equipment in service.

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