How Engineers Improve Healthcare in Developing Countries

By Kevin Howell

Healthcare is a basic need. However, many people throughout the world lack access to sufficient medical services.

People in low socioeconomic positions, rural communities, and developing nations often have the worst health. Not only is access to services an issue, but also living conditions. About 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. Other troubling stats include:

According to a report by the World Health Organization, “The poorest of the poor, around the world, have the worst health. Those at the bottom of the distribution of global and national wealth, those marginalized and excluded within countries, and countries themselves disadvantaged by historical exploitation…present an urgent moral and practical focus for action.”

Though the situation looks grim, there is hope. Engineers are putting their skills to use, developing technological solutions to the healthcare crisis in developing nations. Here are some ways they’re making a difference.

ACCESS TO CARDIAC HEALTHCARE

In rural India, there is a shortage of trained doctors, particularly cardiologists. Though there are some health clinics, many of them lack the necessary equipment and tools for proper cardiac health screenings.

One of the main tools cardiologists use is an acoustic stethoscope, which allows them to listen to the sounds and murmurs of the heart. Students from the IEEE Bangalore section developed a solution to this problem for rural communities.

Using an EPICS grant, the students partnered with a non-profit organization to develop an electronic stethoscope that creates a digital recording of the heart sounds. A healthcare worker in a rural area can examine a patient with the device then send the recording to a cardiologist in a nearby city to interpret the sounds and give treatment advice.

DEVICES THAT CLOSE HEALTHCARE GAP

People in the developing world often have treatable conditions; they just don’t have the resources to afford treatments. D-Rev is a company that designs medical technologies that are closing the healthcare gap for underserved populations.

One of their projects is the ReMotion knee, an affordable prosthetics specifically designed for the developing world. Developing countries have hundreds of thousands of amputees, but most of them don’t have access to modern prosthetics.

The D-Rev ReMotion knee is designed for maximum impact and motion, as many people in developing nations walk on rough terrain and use bicycles for transportation. And the projected retail price is under $80.

IMPROVE PRENATAL CARE

Many rural areas in developing countries lack necessary equipment for prenatal care, such as obstetric ultrasounds. Ultrasounds help recognize and diagnose prenatal disorders and monitor chronic and preventable disease.

Students from the IEEE Kerala Section of India developed a solution. Using an EPICS grant, they developed a low-cost, portable diagnostic device for ultrasounds. The device consists of medical sensors, an SD card, and a central controller. It allows a healthcare worker in a remote area to measure vital data, which is collected on the SD card and relayed to a doctor.

While poor communities face many obstacles, engineers are at work to close the healthcare gap with innovative tools. The solutions above are just a few of the ways technology is transforming medical care in the developing world.

You can be the next person to develop an innovate solution for healthcare in underserved communities. And EPICS in IEEE can help. We provide grants for engineer-related community service projects. Find out more here.