EWH summer students often find themselves challenged in unexpected ways; Working with the limited resources they have allows them to be creative and think critically to solve real word problems. This past summer, a group of students repurposed unused IV trees to create a hand-washing station at their hospital placement. Another example is blood pressure cuffs, a frequently used product that is discarded at the end of its life. In the USA, a blood pressure monitor is not something that a specialist can fix – it will just be replaced because it is cheaper. In rural Uganda, however, these cups are hard to come by. EWH volunteers have found that if they can’t find a replacement, a puncture marker can be fixed using a bicycle patch. Although this doesn’t seem like a long-term solution, it can keep the patient active until a replacement joint can be removed in a major city. In a small clinic that may have only one patient examiner, this may change. These problem solving skills will ultimately make them better engineers in their future careers in research and development or manufacturing.
In fact, many engineering students do not end up working in global health, and do not see global health as a good career path, but instead, often turn to high-paying opportunities in the corporate, technology and industrial sectors. . However, engineers, regardless of their field, have a role to play in improving healthcare around the world. Engineers can make a big impact on global health by considering the challenges of limited resources in their designs and working to make them work. How many power surges can your design handle before it fails? Will it last outside of a standard, temperature-controlled operating room? Does it have many components that require frequent replacement making it unusable if these components cannot be exported? We need to start designing with the whole world in mind, creating solutions that work in difficult environments.
However, to achieve long-term results in affordable health care, we also need to strengthen local capacity to maintain essential medical equipment.