4GBI sets pace as Ghana readies to manufacture & repair medical equipment locally

The For Ghana Biomedical Innovations (4GBI), a USA-Ghana non-profit corporation team, has organized workshops in the Eastern and Greater Accra regions of Ghana to engender dialogue between health sector stakeholders in order to better understand the resources that are currently available in Ghana’s rural clinics and hospitals and to discuss additional resources that would be most beneficial to produce and repair locally.

The programme was also meant to foster partnerships among the relevant sectors including health care, technology, academia, business and government to address the situation of overreliance on foreign manufactured medical resources and the difficulty in fixing or servicing them when they break down, to forestall putting additional pressure on the already scarce resources at the various facilities.

Held at Kyebi and Accra on the 6th and 8th of December, respectively, the workshop brought together scores of healthcare providers, engineers, academics and entrepreneurs who shared their ideas about the way forward towards improving resource availability and efficiency at the various health centres.

The Okyenhene, His Majesty Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin II, the chairperson for the event, applauded all health workers for their dedication to ensuring that the rest of the country have access to good health, despite the difficulties they go through due to the unavailability of key logistics.

“We understand that sometimes the resources needed to provide the best possible healthcare remain unavailable. We would like to understand better what resources health care workers will have to work with and what resources they still need to better fulfil their mission. These are physicians, engineers and lawyers who have travelled all the way to hear our stories. It is your job to help them understand the workings of our health care system. It is only when they better understand the current state of our healthcare that they will be able to provide resources to make us better. They need to know the resources we have and what resources we can benefit from having,” the Okyenhene said.

Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori Panin said in as much as ideas, equipment and infrastructure are key to quality health delivery, “we still require the human resource to work, to nurse and to teach people. He therefore encouraged health practitioners to continue to be dedicated and willing to do the job”.

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Professor Lee Makowski, chairman of the Biomedical Engineering Department of the Northeastern University in Boston, USA and one of the main brains behind the 4GBI initiative, said some events that characterized the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the role played by one of his colleagues, now deceased, in manufacturing about five ventilators for Ghana in response to a request to help address respiratory distress in the country provided the motivation to embark on the project.

He expressed concern that about 95 percent of medical equipment used in the country are produced outside. A situation he deems unhelpful.

“The solution that works in Europe, Asia and North America are not always the best solutions for West Africa. Example is the blood pressure cuff which is made with plastic, thereby breaks down easily due to the heat in this part of the world since it is fashioned to suit their local situation,” he explained.

Professor Lee Makowski

Professor Makowski believes Ghana is a good place to improve medical resources because the country has many well-trained engineers, nurses, midwives etc. to make it happen.

Addressing the participants, Dr. Thelma Afia Asare of the Capital Women’s Care in Baltimore, USA, bemoaned the unavailability of basic items such as shelves at some of the health centres visited earlier and urged participants to think and figure out how such things can be manufactured in Ghana.

“We don’t intend doing the typical NGO thing whereby they bring a machine but when it breaks down, we don’t get anyone to repair it. What we intend doing is to set up a centre to train people who can repair the equipment so that those of us who are educated can also think of what we can manufacture here so that when they break down, we can repair them here without expecting someone to come from abroad to repair them,” Dr. Asare said.

On her part, Madam Rodalyn Adda Kyei-Yamoah, the Abuakwa South District Health Superintendent, said the fact that an estimated 50 percent of medical equipment in developing countries such as Ghana are either not functioning or not used correctly or optimally and invariably not maintained, have far reaching implications on our health care delivery and represents a deplorable waste of our scarce resources.

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She added that other barriers such as unavailability of accessories and consumables, absence of well-trained staff to operate equipment and lack of guidelines/ policies for using medical equipment undermine quality delivery.

“For health professionals with the same quality and competence, the virtual difference in performance can be attributed to the access to medical technology. Most often when clients are referred to the smaller facilities, they tend to undermine the competence of staff but reality often lies in the availability of medical equipment. Health facilities require certain basic equipment to ensure that clients receive the appropriate care with dignity and convenience. However, for most facilities in the municipality, the medical equipment are either not available or are faulty.”

Madam Rodalyn, nonetheless, assured that their dedicated health staff have remained resolute in the discharge of their duties, despite the challenges.

Dr Akoto Ampaw, the Medical Director for the Eastern Regional Hospital, took participants through an overview of the innovation needs in health care with respect to the different levels of the health care structure.

Dr. Akoto said that although calibration and standardization of medical equipment is important in ensuring accurate readings, the facilities lack the financial capacity to do so due to the cost involved, describing the situation as a looming catastrophe for medical practice if it is not addressed.

“This is very difficult for all us. We at the Eastern Regional Hospital dared to get accreditation of ISO in the laboratory. In doing that we needed to standardize the equipment that we use just in the laboratory and, Nana Chair, I can tell you that the bill that came from Standards Authority just to standardize like a fraction of the hospital was not anything that the hospital could have afforded, let alone look at all this different equipment that we needed to standardize and this goes across to all other district hospitals, health centres, Community Health-Based Planning Services (CHPS) compounds that I have mentioned.”

The Medical Director of the Eastern Regional Hospital also mentioned maintenance and the need to replace parts of some equipment as another major challenge which according to him, requires the services of technicians and technologist whose services are, unfortunately, not readily available and as a result, leave the hospitals with no option than to discard some of these equipment when they break down. He cited how the Regional Hospital had to discard its only CT Scan machine when it broke down because the hospital could not afford the cost of flying-in an expert from abroad to repair it.

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Dr. Ampaw expressed worry that technologies or innovations inspired by Covid-19, such as the cloth mask and other masks, basic ventilators etc. have been discarded instead of allowing such innovations to grow. Adding that it is not possible to have total control of our health care system if we lack innovation and the motivation to continue that which we need.

A panel discussion of healthcare providers was carried out to generate and share ideas and experiences as to the way forward. It was moderated by Dr. Thelma Asare and had Dr. Robert Djagblatey of the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr. Akoto Ampaw, Regional Director for the Regional Hospital in Koforidua, Dr. Richard Nii Dodoo, Medical Superintendent of the Kyebi Hospital, Madam Eunice Kyerewaa Akwei, District Public Health Nurse, Abuakwa South and Madam Rodalyn Adda Kyei-Yamoah, District Health Superintendent, Abuakwa South as panelists. There was an opportunity for all other participants to also share their views and suggestions.

The workshop was a follow up to a tour by the team of some of the health facilities in the Eastern Region to interact with care givers and to have first-hand knowledge of the facilities and equipment.

Some of the facilities visited by the team were the Kyebi District Hospital, the Akyem Segyemase CHPS, Akyem Tunfa CHPS and Akyem Abompe CHPS Compounds. The team also visited the Akyem Dwenase Clinic. Blood Pressure testing machines were donated to each of the health centres visited.

Concerning the way forward, the 4GBI team said it has enough information, through the facility visits and the summit, regarding Ghana’s resource needs and it is left with them to figure out the possibilities and ways to address those possibilities.

The 4GBI (For Ghana Biomedical Innovation) is a non-profit corporation with 501 (c3) status with a mission to develop strategies for addressing medical needs in Ghana from concept to sustainable availability.


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