We are a team of master’s students from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design on a trip to Rwanda to complete on the ground research for our project. Our project Tech Connect is a continuation of a past team’s project to equip biomedical equipment technicians (BMETs) in the developing world with a tool that will help them repair broken medical equipment. Below is a summary of the project:

For the first time in history, more people are dying from a lack of access to safe, essential surgical care than from communicable diseases.  Publication of the Lancet Commission’s Global Surgery 2030 report and the World Bank report on the importance of surgery in developing countries recently placed safe surgery on the global health agenda.

The WHO estimates that up to 70% of all biomedical equipment in developing countries is partially or completely nonfunctional. However, research from Engineering World Health has demonstrated that 66% of all equipment failures can be easily fixed with simple, generalizable technician skills. Further, EWH’s research shows that having access to manuals or simplified flowcharts significantly increases successful work order completion rates, as does having another contact that the technician feels comfortable calling for an on-the-phone consult.

Tech Connect provides all of these resources at the technician’s fingertips by providing intuitive troubleshooting flowcharts. A crowdsourcing platform allows the world’s biomedical technicians to collaborate and share information. By following simple instructions, a technician can diagnose and fix an unfamiliar piece of equipment.

Last year’s team completed an initial usability study of the system in Ethiopia with extremely positive results. Our mission on this trip is to learn about the needs of a different healthcare system in Africa, specifically in Rwanda. With the help of organizations such as Engineering World Health (EWH) and improved training systems, Rwanda’s technicians are well trained and equipped. Our hope is to learn about the resources they use to troubleshoot and repair equipment and the challenges that they face during this process. Our goal is to find ways to incorporate these resources into our system as well as tackle these challenges.