80% of medical equipment in developing countries is donated; 40% = nonfunctional

WHO estimates that 80 percent of the medical equipment in developing countries is donated. A 2011 studylooked at inventory lists from 16 low-income countries and showed the number of nonfunctional medical equipment in that pool is at about 40 percent. 

Meanwhile, in high-income countries less than 1 percent of medical equipment is out of service.

When medical equipment breaks down in the developing world, it often stays broken. There are usually few supply chains to get replacement parts, and local technical expertise is sparse.

Even when the machinery isn't broken, it may not be useful. In some cases, the donated machines need voltage that is incompatible with the electric supply (if it's available and consistent) in the target country. Or the machine itself may work but the supplies needed to make it work may have run out. I have also noticed that there is often a mismatch between the equipment donated and the capacity of the health-care facility to actually use the machine. What good is a ventilator when you donate it to a facility that has no health care workers with training to use it or steady electricity to keep operating it?

An old but often quoted report by WHO on medical device donations states: "Only 10–30 percent of donated equipment becomes operational in developing countries." Invariably, the rest end up in hospital corridors or patient rooms or litter the outskirts of villages. Sometimes they become playthings for children.

Can anything be done to revive the broken machines — or at least make sure that new medical equipment doesn't fail as well?

A first step would be to do what you do when you want to make sure you give the right gift to someone — ask what they need.


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