Bio-Medical Equipment used in Third-World Countries

By: Nicholas Stittleburg Bio-Medical Electronics Student, Western Technical College, La Crosse, WI

Your computed tomography (CT) scanner isn't worth fixing. Or maybe your electrosurgical unit is being replace with a newer model or your facility has just purchanes a new imaging system.

What should you do with your old equipment? Throw it away? Recycle it? Donate it to charity? Or sell it?

Every day, in healthcare facilities around the world, medical technology professionals are asked to make decisions about how to properly dispose of unwanted medical equipment.

For example, at St. Thomas Hospital in Nashville, decisions are reviewed by multiple departments to determine if others within the facility could use the piece of equipment. The biomedical engineering department is the last to sign off on the decision. If no one wants it, sometimes the device is kept for spare parts, which can be "far more valuable" than the trade-in value, says Joe M. Howe, manager of the biomedical engineering at St. Thomas.

Still, Howe hopes to improve his facility's disposal policy by developing "a more systematic approach to disposal so that other hospitals within our healthcare system have a chance to claim the equipment." [1]

However, despite the billions of dollars spent each year on an ever-increasing array of medical devices and equipment, the majority of countries still regard the management of devices as a procurement issue rather than an integral part of public health policy. Around 95% of medical technology in developing countries is imported, much of which does not meet the needs of national health care systems.

Up to 50% of equipment in 3rd world countries is not in use, either because of a lack of maintenance or spare parts, because it is too sophisticated, or simply because the health personnel do not know how to use it. This has far-reaching implications for health care delivery and invariably represents a deplorable waste of scarce resources. [http//]

Luckily, there are companies out there that are attempting to stop this vast waste of medical equipment. Project C.U.R.E., a Denver-based nonprofit company that collects excess medical supplies in the US and ships them to hospitals and clinics in 92 countries is an example of one of these organizations.

C.U.R.E. as warehouses in five U.S. cities and last year shipped 110 ocean-going cargo containers overseas. Each on contained medical material worth up to $500,000. The organization is setting up a facility in St. Paul Minnesota where they will have easy access to the twin cities and Mayo Clinic. Minneapolis and St. Paul have so many great manufacturing facilities that may be able to donate operating supplies and equipment and all kinds of much needed materials. there potentially could be trailer loads of extra or outdated equipment that is still useful and desperately needed in poor countries.

Another plus that large hospitals or small clinics should look into is that if they donate medical equipment they get very generous tax write-offs and treatment from the good ole United States government.

Doug Jackson current head of C.U.R.E once watched a man die in a hospital bed in Ecuador because they didn't have an IV starter kit in the whole hospital and he was dehydrated. He then saw a closet full of broken medical equipment that they said they couldn't afford to hire a technician to fix. Mr. Jackson was able to realize that if they sent more equipment, in six months it would all be in the closet too. so he decided to send other supplies: sutures, IV sets, otoscopes and other material for their ER, OR and ICU. He told them to take the money they'd usually spend on those supplies and instead hire a bio-medical tech to fix the stuff they had.

A staff member or two of C.U.R.E will go around the world to different clinics and hospitals and assess the severity of their needs before they agree to send supplies. This assessment ensures that the supplies are truly needed and will be used properly.

The organization is so powerful that if they find a need in Mozambique because of a flood or they see dying babies in Malawi they can send a container with a half-million dollars worth of medical equipment that was donated to Africa for a simple shipping charge of around 8,000-10,0000 dollars. This one container can potentially help save thousands of lives and change entire countries.

Project C.U.R.E. was founded in 1987 by Jim Jackson, a Denver businessman. On a visit to Brazil, he saw long lines of people waiting to be seen at a medical clinic, then learned that many were turned away because of a lack of supplies. he vowed to help and collected donated material in his garage. Within a month he was able to send $250,000 worth of supplies to the clinic. [2]

Statuses around the world can vary dramatically. There can be a couple state of the art hospitals in one area and than in another there are hospitals were there are no latex gloves for the staff and there are usually two or three people sleeping in the same bed. Hospitals in 3rd world countries arn't the only ones suffering, there are plenty of hospitals right here in the U.S. that could use much needed equipment, supplies or some well trained BMETS. [1][2][3]

Donations of Medical Equipment[]



  1. Lynda, McDaniel. "Finding a Home for." Biomedical Instrumentation & Technology. 30 Apr 2008 <
  2. WHO. "Medical devices and equipment." World Health Organization. 30 Apr 2008 <
  3. Kimball, Joe. "Group that donates medical supplies to needy countries sets up shop in St. Paul." 12 Jan 2004. The Medical Supply Group. 30 Apr 2008 <