A FOUNDATION OF HEALTH CARE: A group of radiologists, humanitarians and technology providers are studying how best to deliver radiology equipment and expertise to China, India and other areas of the developing world. Billions of people worldwide lack access to radiology services including CT scans and MRIs. Image: © MARK KOSTICH, VIA ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
Improvements in medical imaging technology have made computerized tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and other tools of radiology a routine part of any trip to the emergency room in the Western world. This is not the case, however, in many developing countries, which often lack the equipment, expertise and/or infrastructure to diagnose and treat health care problems with the help of radiology.
A team of radiologists and humanitarians who returned last week from a 14-day fact-finding mission in western China and northern India are hoping to change this through the Radiology-Readiness program, an effort launched in October 2008 by a global nonprofit network of radiologists known as RAD-AID to evaluate the need for imaging technology in developing countries and determine how to deliver imaging equipment as well as training and maintenance expertise where it is needed.
Imaging and health care
"Imaging is a major part of almost every clinical decision we make in our health care system, yet this technology is not available to a substantial portion of the world," says RAD-AID founder and chief executive Daniel Mollura. The idea was to first determine what sorts of diseases and other health problems are prevalent in a given area and the extent to which radiology might be useful to physicians there. If a need is identified, the next step is to develop a plan to deliver the imaging equipment, train locals to use it and ensure that the local infrastructure is able to reliably support it.
To determine which locations are most in need of and the best candidates for Radiology-Readiness, Mollura approached the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Project HOPE about a year and a half ago. "We proposed to study the role of radiology and how radiology could be optimized for clinics operating throughout [Project HOPE's] system," Mollura says.
This was a good fit, says Cary Kimble, Project HOPE's director of development, because the NGO's focus is on sustainable health care improvements. "Without a strong base in radiology, the system can't function properly," he adds.
Project HOPE served as a facilitator for RAD-AID in northern India and western China, where the NGO has many contacts. Mollura left for China on July 10 and during his weeklong stay visited five institutions in Project Hope's network located in three cities—Shanghai, Yinchuan and Zhengzhou. In Shanghai these sites included Shanghai Children's Medical Center, Renji Hospital and Tang Qiao CHCC (Community Health Care Clinic). The sites in Yinchuan and Zhengzhou included Affiliated Hospital of Ninxia Medical University and First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, respectively.
"We're still analyzing what we saw and discussed in China, so it's a little early to say too much," Mollura says, adding that the RAD-AID and Project HOPE teams will be working closely with the participating institutions over the next several months to design follow-up plans. "China's expanding radiologic capability offers significant new opportunities for physicians in China and the U.S. to work together for improving global health."