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When giving isn't enough: Donated medical devices sit idle in Africa

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2013 6:34 p.m. MDT

Every day good-hearted people all over the world donate items big and small to impoverished areas of Africa. Just by way of illustration, a recent Google News search for “donating Africa” turned up relatively new articles about a Minnesota town that donated two tractors to a village in Zimbabwe and an English boys’ soccer team that donated its old uniforms to a charity called Football 4 Africa.

However, one class of donated items that stands apart from all others is medical devices — both for their ability to save lives, as well as the extreme difficulty of keeping the donations in proper working condition.

In “The Inadequacy of Donating Medical Devices to Africa,” freelance journalist Mike Miesen published a feature-length article Friday for The Atlantic exploring how and why donated medical devices yield so little utility in Africa.

“Regardless of initial condition, all medical equipment will eventually need regular maintenance and repair,” Miesen wrote. “If the equipment is novel to the region and the expertise isn’t available to maintain and fix it, a device that breaks is broken forever. …

“To be sure, when it works, donated medical equipment saves lives. … But the systems employed by (many) organizations are inefficient, wasteful and reactive, often leaving recipient hospitals frustrated and unprepared. Small changes could lead to equipment being used, maintained and repaired more effectively.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com

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