Bridging Resource Gaps
Written by Lindsay Doucette
Engineering students at the Universidad Del Valle in Cochabamba had many questions for visiting biomedical imaging specialists Jurgen Zieb and Rene Portillo, of the TriMedx Foundation. When students asked for advice and what inspires them, one of the engineers responded, “This is humbling work, but don’t give up. I am animated by continually thinking of the patients who need these machines to function properly.”
Rene shared the story of a boy with cancer who was waiting for his final session of radiotherapy when the hospital’s linear accelerator stopped working. Rene was called in to repair the complex machine. He said he felt a great responsibility to the cancer patient waiting for this potentially life-saving treatment.
During the first few days of this biomedical engineering mission our engineers have had both humbling moments and moments to celebrate.
They had the opportunity to be in solidarity with their Bolivian engineering colleagues when facing the frustration of an old X-Ray machine that was essentially dead on arrival. They celebrated finding solutions to imaging problems at local hospitals and were happy to connect local engineers with replacement parts needed for essential imaging equipment.
This week has been a rich opportunity for the exchange of technical experience among the visiting specialists and Bolivian engineers, as well as with students, technicians and other medical professionals.
Through this exchange it is clear that health inequity exists not only between countries but within countries as well. In the United States it may take biomedical engineers hours or days to find a replacement part for a malfunctioning x-ray or MRI machine. In Bolivia it could take weeks or even months to access a replacement part for a US or European-made imaging device. This resource gap has significant impacts for hospitals and patients alike.
These resource gaps are also clearly evident within Bolivia itself. While touring the various public and private hospitals in Cochabamba, our team had the opportunity to see the vast contrasts in the quality of imaging technologies available from hospital to hospital.
Advancing access to essential medical technology is a crucial component of the shared mission of Solidarity Bridge and Puente de Solidaridad. And, our experience this week has proven to be a great opportunity to advocate for the international and local sharing of experience, building capacity, and reducing existing resource gaps.
We are grateful to the TriMedx Foundation, Puente de Solidaridad, our engineering missioners, and the Bolivian biomedical community for helping to facilitate this one, small step in the direction of greater health equity for patients in need of care.