Chris Mol, a lecturer in Biomedical Engineering at NORTEC, celebrates the projects most recent successes and comments on the complexity of the tasks ahead.

Since 2011, THET with support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID) has been working with the Northern Technical College (NORTEC) to develop the first pre-service training course for Biomedical  Engineering Technologists (BMETs).

At the end of 2016, our first cohort of Biomedical engineering technologists (BMET’s) in Zambia completed their final examinations. 

From now on, some thirty new technologists will become available to improve the poor maintenance situation of the medical equipment in the country. We have also trained enough local BME lecturers to make this teaching program sustainable! Good reasons to be proud! Surely this will have a major impact on the availability of working medical equipment for patient diagnosis and treatment!

Well…maybe not. Whereas the presence of well-trained BMETs is a necessary condition, it may not be sufficient. When you think about it, what good can a BMET do in a hospital where a workshop or tools are extremely limited? Or where there is no substantial budget to purchase spare parts for repair? Or where spare parts purchasing procedures are so cumbersome that it may take up to one year to acquire these, even if a budget is allocated? Or where service and user manuals are available only in the Chinese language because they came as part of a business package and there are no regulations on local language documents? Or where donated equipment comes without adequate documentation and spare part provisions? Or where the local culture is to wait with repairing a piece of equipment until it is really broken, rather than doing preventive maintenance? Or where the status of the BMET is such that (s)he is supposed to sit in the cellar of the hospital, waiting for a phone call to come and fix a unit, rather than pro-actively managing the installed base of equipment in the hospital?

When you come close, the issue of good medical equipment appears to grow in complexity. Such is life! This is not a reason to despair and give up, but rather to remove our blinders and consider the total complexity (‘eco-system’) of the task at hand. 

Let’s appreciate the potentially limited but still crucial importance of our contributions and diligently hammer away at the next roadblock.  

Considering the crucial position of the Ministry of Health in managing local healthcare, support of local policy generation will be one of the focal points of our follow up actions. Another one will be to support process improvement activities in local hospitals and the support of a national BME Association to advance the profession. Only a broad and integral approach will, in the not too long  term, deliver bottom line value to the Zambian patients. Let’s do it!

Chris Mol
Lecturer in Biomedical Engineering
NORTEC, Zambia