Rwanda’s trial run
In 2009 EWH went to Rwanda to start training hospital technicians to manage, fix and maintain medical equipment. “We don’t have biomedical engineering courses in our universities or in our colleges,” says Didier Mukama, country director for EWH in Rwanda. “This was the first time there was formal academic training done here in Rwanda.”
Before EWH came to Rwanda technicians only handled electrical and plumbing problems, Mukama says. When medical equipment broke, hospitals would just request a new donation from another organization. “Basic things like the inventory of medical equipment were not even done, because most of the medical technicians didn’t even know the name of the equipment,” he says.
Malkin and his colleagues, who have been following the effect of the training on hospitals, says they’ve seen the amount of out-of-service equipment fall by almost half, and the technicians’ productivity more than double. Mukama says the goal is for EWH to train two technicians from each of the country’s public hospitals. Several have already graduated, and dozens are still in training. “I’m really happy with what has been achieved,” he adds. “Before most of the technicians were not even allowed to touch the equipment, but now they are able to do most of the troubleshooting.”
Still, not everything is perfect. Mukama says there are devices in disrepair because technicians have trouble finding spare parts. “I think the big elephant in the room that nobody had really figured out is spare parts,” Malkin says.
Aside from on-the-ground training, Malkin says he also attends medical technology conferences to present EWH’s work. Currently, about 130 organizations send medical equipment overseas, he says. Some have adopted responsible practices. “I think we’re making some progress,” he adds.