How Rural Diagnostics Saves Lives

Africa’s physician density is sparse. The continent bears 24 percent of the global disease burden but has only 3 percent of the global health workforce to deal with it. Facing heavy workloads and poor working environments, most doctors and medical students leave to work and study abroad.

Those that stay are concentrated in urban centres. In Kenya, for example, more than half of the country’s doctors live and work in Nairobi. In Ghana, one quarter of the population live more than 15 kilometres away from a doctor.

Health professionals prefer urban medical centres because they are usually more advanced and better equipped than their rural counterparts. Rural hospitals suffer from supply shortages, inadequate equipment and in some countries, frequent power cuts. Without working diagnostic equipment a health worker’s job becomes impossible.

The pulse oximeter is a good example. The peg-like device that clips onto a patient’s finger and measures oxygen levels and pulse rate is one of the many simple devices taken for granted as a staple in every ambulance, emergency room and recovery room. Yet, according to a 2010 survey, more than 77 000 operating theatres in low and middle income countries were performing surgeries without them.

Without pulse oximetry, oxygen levels can only be read by taking arterial blood gas and waiting for a result. Meanwhile oxygen deprivation could cause significant damage to the patient. So, during surgery in these locations, oxygen is administered, the pulse is taken manually and the patient’s fingernails are watched to see they remain pink. After surgery, there are not enough nurses to monitor the patient manually.

Providing rural medical centres with adequate diagnostics does not have to be complicated or costly. Equatel’s rural diagnostics include pulse oximeters and other medical censors that attach to the solar powered kiosk which means their functionality is not affected by power outages.

Rural hospitals which are properly equipped with EHR systems and diagnostic equipment are more likely to attract medical professionals, providing them with an appropriate environment to practice medicine safely and confidently.

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