By Chioma Obinna
No fewer than 350 leading health experts from over 100 countries last week met during the World Health Organization (WHO) forum in Bangkok, Thailand to review new evidence with a view to coming up with ways to improve developing country access to life-saving medical devices.
Speaking at the Forum, the Director-General of WHO, Dr Margaret Chan who noted that the medical device industry holds great promise for public health, sometimes spectacular promise, sometimes seductive promise stressed that health officials and hospital managers in all countries, at all levels of development, need guidance.
Chan who disclosed that the forum was held because of unquestionable benefits of medical devices are so unevenly and unfairly distributed noted that currently, there are some 10,500 different types of medical devices on the market. “They range from high-cost, high-tech diagnostic and therapeutic equipment such as linear accelerators to treat cancer to stethoscopes and other basic technologies that help doctors and nurses provide health care on a daily basis. They also include devices that improve millions of people’s lives such as wheelchairs, hearing aids, eyeglasses, pacemakers and prostheses”
According to a new WHO study, medical devices: managing the mismatch; and an ongoing survey that has so far mapped medical device use in 140 countries, reveal that too many people are currently excluded from their benefits.
Revenue from sales of medical devices worldwide was estimated at around US$ 210 billion for 2008. Four fifths of that revenue comes from sales in the Americas and Europe.
The ongoing WHO survey reveals that the average availability of computed tomography (CT) scanners is one per 64,900 people in average in high-income countries, but one per 3.5 million people in low-income countries. Ten countries have so far reported to WHO that they have no radiotherapy unit at all, depriving almost 100 million people of access to cancer treatment.
The survey also identified affordability as one of the problems. However, worldwide, annual government expenditure on health ranges from well over US$ 7,000 per person to less than US$ 10. Low levels of expenditure on health in general lead to low levels of expenditure on medical devices. In turn, this leads to inadequate investment in all forms of medical devices: in some countries, shortages of needles, syringes, and sterilizing equipment mean that up to 40 per cent of injections are unsafe.
Another problem is that most medical equipment in low-resource settings is imported or donated from industrialized countries. Many of these devices do not function properly. Other problems include; lack of capacity. In many areas, erratic power supply, uncertain water quality, and shortage of health manpower were challenges.