Sensors Going Blind: Obsolete Medical Scanners in the Developing World
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night with chest pains. You can’t call 911 because you live in a region without telephone service. There are few emergency services available and, even so, there are few functional roads. The pains pass, but you know you need to have it looked at. You begin the long, possibly dangerous trek from your remote home to one of the surrounding urban areas. You will try to locate a medical center, where you will receive modern medical care and access to high-tech diagnostics and treatments that aren’t available in your area.
Now, imagine that you’ve come all this way only to be told that the hospital’s only functional echocardiogram has been damaged and shorted out the week before. Even worse, there are no replacement boards or components to repair it because they have been out of production for a decade.
For those in the developing world, this scenario is a very real possibility. They must travel great distances from rural areas to cities for advanced care, and the state of diagnostic technology can often be grim. Even in more urban environments, conditions may be too poor for modern electronics to survive. Boards can overheat and burn out due to inadequate air conditioning, and rats can chew through cabling because the hospitals may only have basic storage facilities. Once you add electronic obsolescence to the mix, you end up with a mixture of older equipment that just can’t be repaired.
With little funding for maintenance and little training available, hospitals and medical centers throughout developing Africa, Asia, and South America are facing an increasing problem with obsolescence. The often donated or after-market diagnostic devices needed to help identify medical conditions and treat patients are frequently about to become obsolete or were already obsolete before they were donated.
While the value of modern medical equipment is not to be underestimated in struggling communities, equipment is sometimes only weeks or months from becoming unserviceable for the facilities receiving them.
In developed countries, it is easy to take for granted that medical technology is not only in good working order but is regularly serviced by trained personnel. It is hard to imagine receiving medical services from untrained staff or using broken or failing equipment. Although this is a common state of affairs for hundreds of millions across the globe, there is hope.
Developing nations are often desperately searching the market for devices – obsolete or otherwise – which turn out to be subject to a variety of problems that will ultimately make the equipment nothing but junk. Between challenges like unreliable power sources to the often lengthy distances people must travel for care . These problems have inspired a variety of innovative solutions and have allowed some obsolete devices to be supplemented or replaced by new mobile technologies.
While these new approaches do not address the problem of long-lasting legacy management in poverty-stricken and vulnerable areas, they do leverage existing technology to provide faster, more reliable solutions to real health-care problems.
The GDCA Team