Possible innovations from the solutions tested in Africa

di Leandro Pecchia - Ordinary of Bioingelectronic and computer engineering

Every day, innovation in medicine takes advantage of the latest generation enabling technologies which, applied to medical devices, will be able to create a true revolution in healthcare for the benefit of patients.

Having both economic and environmental sustainability as my horizon, in recent years I have undertaken field research in Africa, aimed at creating medical devices that are resilient to the three great challenges of African healthcare: lack of specialist personnel, problems supply working conditions different from those of Europe or the United States, for which our devices are built.

Sometimes these conditions also arise in high-income countries, especially during pandemics or wars. We often think of low-cost solutions, but the truth is that cost is only one of the variables, otherwise we would solve all the problems with donations.

In hospitals in Benin, Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa and Nigeria I saw that what we study in Europe to design, regulate and manage medical devices is often in contradiction with the real lack of an efficient assistance network, spare parts, knowledge and standards.

The field studies I have carried out have allowed me to experiment with innovative technological solutions for health, which are economically accessible, also sustainable from an environmental point of view and, above all, suitable for the local context.
At the same time, they allowed me to understand that what we consider the standard in our latitudes can become an obstacle to development and health in other areas of the planet, as well as a commitment that local governments are unable to honour.

One of the most significant data shows how the USA, Europe and Japan represent 80% of the global medical device market, compared to a population of just over 900 million people, just 11.3% of the world population.

However, in the world, according to the World Health Organization, as many as 75% of the global population lives in low-income countries and half of these people do not have adequate access to essential care. For this reason, with my working group, first in the universities of the United Kingdom where I worked from 2011 and then from 2022 toUniversità Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, is developing solutions that aim to change the current paradigm, looking to the future in two ways.
The first, by helping to restore the right to health to less wealthy populations; the second, offering sustainable and easily manageable solutions in the production, maintenance and decommissioning phases, in the absence of an efficient supply chain.

With an app installed on a simple smartphone we can, for example, evaluate the reaction of the pupil, which can identify a head injury.

It is possible to create frequently used accessories that are difficult to find on many markets with 3D printers, such as, for example, filters for oxygen concentrators or valves for intrauterine balloons to stop postpartum hemorrhages, up to simple but important garments for newborns woven with fibers optics to treat and resolve jaundice in the first days of life.