AAMI News April 2017

Volunteers Make a World of Difference in Developing Nations

Medical devices are crucial for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of illness and disease. However, access to functioning medical equipment in developing nations is limited, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In some countries, nearly 80% of medical devices are donated or funded by international donors or foreign governments. But only 10%–30% actually are used, based on one WHO estimate, due in large part to lack of user training and a lack of effective technical support.

There are several nonprofit organizations that seek to install medical equipment in developing countries and train local staff to use, repair, and maintain it. These organizations rely on volunteers from the healthcare technology management (HTM) community to share their skills and expertise so hospitals and clinics in the developing world can effectively manage their inventory of devices and equipment.

Trips to these countries can be a life-changing experience, both for local communities and volunteers. Three HTM professionals who have volunteered with one such humanitarian organization, Assist International, opened up about their experiences working on medical equipment in the developing world.

Rob Busby

Rob Busby
Rob Busby
shows nurses in an ICU in Khartoum, Sudan
how to operate a bedside monitor.

Pre-sales technical consultant, Philips Healthtech
Countries visited: Tibet, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Cuba, Guatemala, Chile, Israel, and Romania

I got involved with Assist International because I had a customer who was doing trips with them who asked me to join him. When I heard the trip was to Tibet, I couldn’t resist and joined him and the Assist team. While I was there, I installed medical monitoring equipment donated by my company, such as bedside monitors. Usually we installed it in intensive care units and neonatal intensive care units, but we also worked in operating rooms and emergency rooms. I also helped install a central monitoring station.

What struck me during my trips was how poor these countries were and how poor the conditions were in the hospitals. In some cases, they lacked the basics, even inexpensive items that could save lives. I will never complain about the American healthcare system!

It was a great feeling to know that what I was doing was going to save lives. It was such an amazing experience, but I always left wishing I could do more. I hope to continue working with Assist as long as they can use me, even after I retire, if possible.

Sohrab Sohrabi

Project manager, GE Healthcare
Countries visited: Kosovo, Bulgaria, and Romania

Sohrab Sohrabi
Sohrab Sohrabi (center) and fellow volunteer Sarah Kabatt (right) worked with nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit at the University Clinical Center of Kosovo.

A decade ago, I received an email from then-GE CEO Joe Hogan asking if anybody would like to help Assist International. Since they were from my area and I wanted to contribute to a good cause, I reached out and offered my help.

During my trips, I installed patient monitoring devices and bedside monitors, and then networked them together and connected them to a central station or to the printers. While I was away, I realized that we are so blessed in this country and spoiled. The world is in such a dire need for better healthcare.

Our hospitals are so equipped, and theirs were so simple. The patients’ beds looked like the beds for soldiers in old movies. Kids were suffering from heart problems and needed surgeries that could not be performed at those hospitals. They had to request to go to Western countries—if they were lucky enough to survive the wait.

When I was helping over there, I had so much energy. I felt full of life and developed a genuine camaraderie with the team and local people. I met so many wonderful people while I was away. They were extremely kind and friendly, and you could connect with them so easily. I am still in contact with some of them via Facebook or email.

Valencia Watson

Valencia Watson
Valencia Watson holds a baby in the maternity ward of a hospital in Bulgaria.

Field service engineer, GE Healthcare
Countries visited: Chile, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Montenegro

One of my coworkers had worked with Assist International and was unable to go on one of the trips—this one to Santiago, Chile—because the dates were changed. He asked if anyone wanted to go. I replied, having no idea what I was volunteering for. I just knew that this could be a chance to do what I love—travel. I didn’t realize how gratifying and humbling it would be or that I would become friends with the people I would meet.

On the trip, I installed GE monitoring equipment and performed user training. I also assisted with unboxing and assembly of other medical devices. It was humbling to see how grateful the people were to receive small items that we take for granted, such as a vein finder. They said that this would be only the second one that they had in the country. We take so much for granted in the United States!

I also was struck by how gracious and warm the people were, and the hospitality they showed. I really enjoyed hearing about the rich history of the countries I visited from the local people who accompanied us on these excursions. I most definitely would volunteer again in whatever capacity the organization sees a need for my help.

What Can You Do?

  • Donate new medical devices or used equipment that is still in good condition. Most companies have a charitable wing that could be leveraged to help get equipment donated.

  • Volunteer with an organization to install equipment and work directly with members of the local community in another country.

To learn more about Assist International, please visit www.assistinternational.org.