Engineering solutions to international medical issues

In London this week, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) hosted an exciting discussion about the future of medical technology in developing countries. The mood at the one-day conference was divided between disappointment and optimism: according to World Health Organisation estimates, approximately three-quarters of medical equipment currently donated from the developed world to poorer countries in Africa goes unused; however, a new generation of devices specifically designed for the environments in which they will be employed is having greater success.

The main problem at present is that technology is sent to developing nations that do not have the infrastructure to adequately maintain it – no means of accessing spare parts, no reliable power supply, and no allowance in the design for harsh conditions or difficult transportation. Participants in the conference agreed that improvements will come via accurate assessment of the specific needs of local medical teams, and designs that utilise the technology that is available whilst circumventing that which is not.

The good news is that innovative work has already begun, and the IMechE was keen to showcase ideas which have already proved their efficacy. One notable example was a device to measure heart rate remotely, developed through international collaboration between Professor Bongani Mayosi and Dr Thomas Brennan, of the universities of Capetown and Oxford respectively. Requiring only that the patient has a mobile phone, a piece of technology that has become ever more common across Africa, Mayosi and Brennan’s creation was praised for both meeting local medical needs and addressing local challenges. It enables advance monitoring for the warning signs of tuberculosis pericarditis – a dangerous complication of the TB which is endemic to some sub-Saharan regions – whilst bypassing the difficulties of regularly reaching patients in remote areas.

Engineers and scientists, development workers and donors all contributed to discussion at the conference, exemplifying the importance of effective communication between specialists when tackling large-scale global problems. Any future projects to supply developing countries with equipment tailored to their needs will require much discussion about medical needs, technical specifications, the local environment and economic factors. TJC Global has an extensive network of specialist interpreters and translators in the fields of engineering and science, and an impressive track record in technical, medical and scientific translation and interpreting. For further information about what we can offer your organisation, please visit our website at or contact us at


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