Program Links Hospitals, Advisers To Keep Machines Running

A new twist on an existing program aims to keep donated medical equipment up and running by linking hospitals via the Internet with technical advisers overseas, according to the organizers of the program.

The project, spearheaded by the NGO Medicorps, will connect maintenance personnel at Cam-bodia’s national hospitals with volunteer technical workers in developed nations. The evolving network is actually an extension of an existing Medicorps program that allows physicians in Cambodia to send a full report with pictures on medical cases to volunteer specialists abroad, who then advise them on treatment plans without having to see the patient in person.

Remon Vanderzijden, of the Netherlands-based Vanderlande Industries, spent three and a half weeks visiting Cambodia’s national hospitals with Medicorps and said the institutions have plenty of equipment. The problem lies in keeping it operational.

“It’s actually being dumped here,” Vanderzijden, who is helping set up the network, said of the donated medical equipment. “It’s not being used here.”

As an example, Vanderzijden tells the story of a Cambodian hospital with a donated autoclave, a de-vice that uses superheated, pressurized steam to sterilize objects. A doctor at the hospital told Vander-zijden the machine broke down two years ago and only displays an error message when activated.

With no instruction manual or familiarity with the machine, it laid dormant.            However, after locating the user manual online and matching up the error code, Vanderzij-den discovered the problem: The autoclave was out of water.

Once it was refilled, it started up without a problem.

A 2007 study from Duke Uni-versity in the US found 96 percent of foreign-donated medical equipment breaks down within five years of donation. Reasons behind the failures are mostly electrical issues or from a lack of training. The equipment can also be felled by loose connections, broken knobs or missing parts.

Dr San Sary, head of hospitals for the Health Ministry, said the problem of fixing busted equipment is not an easy one to solve, but that the ministry is working on its own project to better train staff to handle the devices.

“We have some problems,” he said Wednesday, adding that the ministry has a list of rules to follow when it is receiving equipment. “We have our guidelines for management.”

Dr Gunther Hintz, director for Medicorps, said the program also highlights two other problems with donated goods. Too often, he said, organizations do not determine the need before donating the equipment and fail to train staff on how to maintain the device.

“There is no use for an X-ray machine if there is not enough current or enough space for it,” he said Monday. “It takes very little to correct those mistakes.”

 

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