Pacific Islands Biomedical Summer Work Experience

In 2019, we launched an annual biomedical engineering work experience in the Pacific Islands where you can combine your engineering skills with hands-on training repairing critically needed hospital equipment. Pacific Island countries, such as the Solomon Islands, are our neighbours in the South Pacific. The Solomon Islands, for example, is a country of 600,000 people, and they have six major islands and thousands of minor ones. They have several major hospitals as well as dozens of small, regional clinics. However, they only have two biomedical technicians to support all of their facilities, both of whom trained as electricians.

In today’s world, hundreds of developing countries depend on donated hospital equipment in order to provide lifesaving care to their citizens. This equipment, mostly used or near its expiration date, comes from countless different manufacturers in various states of repair. Often, the recipient country does not have the resources needed to maintain the equipment, operate it in a controlled environment, or repair it. Since they received it as a donation, they also cannot get technical assistance from the manufacturer. Thus, the equipment is utilized until it breaks down and is then hauled outside or into a warehouse graveyard of unusable equipment.

See the 2019 video presentation for all details.

Engineering World Health and other philanthropic organizations have long been sending students to developing countries to repair hospital equipment, and the University of Canterbury sent two students to Uganda for summer 2018-2019 to participate in one of the EWH’s programmes. They highlighted the issues to be:

  • Donated medical devices are NOT designed for developing world applications, thus no equipment is lasting over three months. This leads to no motivation for performing regular maintenance.
  • Proper cleaning is not done, leading to hygiene and degradation issues. 
  • Lack of training around how to perform minor repairs contributes to magnitude of the problem.
  • Safety is not a priority, leading to dangerous work conditions
  • Electrical power is unstable and frequently goes out, creating power surges that damage sensitive electronics and destroy power supplies.
  • Dusty, dirty environments infiltrate particulates and moisture into the equipment causing damage.
  • Operators are not trained on the proper use of the equipment, or that knowledge is lost over time, leading to additional damage to the equipment or safety issues with its use.
  • There is a lack of spare and disposable parts to conduct repairs.
  • Equipment is in short supply, so all equipment tends to be used nonstop until it breaks down. Only then is it scheduled for repair.

The UC students who went to Uganda learned what was needed to correct these issues from on the ground experience, identifying what was needed and what was not. They emphasized the importance of designing sustainable solutions which consider the conditions and usage in the developing world. They also highlighted the need to teach maintenance skills locally.

Thus for our from-scratch initiative in the Pacific Islands, we are focusing on a complete solution that not only addresses the immediate need of repairing a huge backlog of hospital equipment, but also developing an inventory system, source of spare parts, point-of-care instructions on operation, local training on usage, and new designs made for use in developing countries. Long term, we also hope to develop a biomedical technician training programme, likely based at the Solomon Islands National University.

Beyond the hospitals and medical equipment, we hope to launch additional efforts around disaster preparedness, recycling and reuse of plastic, and water cleanliness and availability.

Minor in Bioengineering, Uganda 2019 Minor in Bioengineering, Uganda 2019

The current partnership exists between the University of Canterbury, Fisher & Paykel HealthcareTake My Hands, and University of Auckland, along with multiple agencies and individuals from the Solomon Islands and Tonga.

To train students in the skills they need to repair hospital equipment, a contingent from UC Engineering, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (FPH) and Take My Hands have travelled to both the Solomon Islands and Tonga to identify the top needs for equipment repair as well as inventory management to share with our team here at UC. We obtain similar items from Take My Hands to train from at UC in our converted shipping container workshop.

Minor in Bioengineering, Uganda 2018

Anyone interested in learning about hospital equipment repair is welcome to participate in the training sessions. Some will be hands-on with technician support (local and from the Pacific Islands and FPH); other training will be seminars and all-day workshops with engineers and manufacturers of different types of equipment.

Training is open to all students, any degree programme, regardless of interest in going to the Pacific Islands. Hands-on practical skills related to repairing medical devices, hospital equipment, and electronics will be taught for students to become familiar with hospital equipment, practice identifying components, learn troubleshooting techniques, and develop repair skills.

  • Counts for 400 hours of practical or professional work experience and is also an internship with Fisher & Paykel Healthcare (funded in 2019 by Callaghan Innovation Summer Grants).
  • 6 students + 1 graduated student supervisor for 10 weeks + professional engineer and/or faculty or staff volunteers.
  • For this year, must be Mechanical or Mechatronics Engineering student (any year)
  • Student should have a demonstrated interest in the Minor in Biomedical Engineering(2020)
  • Interviews will be conducted by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare

Applications due online by 22 September at midnight:

  • 11-22 November 2019: UC-based Cultural Awareness, Safety, and Travel Training
  • 23 November – 26 November: NZ Holiday Break
  • 27-28 November – Induction and on-boarding at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Auckland
  • 28 November – Fly to Tonga at 5pm
  • 29 November – First tour of hospital. Meet and greet staff, Ministry of Health, and local contacts
  • 2-20 December 2019: Work at hospital
  • 21 December – 5 January: Optional group holiday excursion in Tonga
  • 6-29 January: Split into two teams and relocate to other island hospitals
  • 30 January – 4 February: Regroup at main hospital
  • 5 February – Fly to Auckland 12:15pm
  • 6 February – Present on experience at Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. Submit reports, images, videos.
  • 7-16 February 2020: NZ Holiday Break
Minor in Bioengineering, Solomon Islands 2019
  • Container Painting Event – October (date TBC)
  • Workshop Open House – mid October (date TBC)
  • Workshop Training in Term 4:
    • We will hold two weekly sessions; Friday afternoon between 3:00PM and 5:00PM, and Friday evening between 6:30PM and 8:30PM beginning 27 September. Location and topic will be announced on Monday of each week.
    • Potential topics we will cover are:
      • 27th September: Electrical Safety and use of Multimeter/Power supplies
      • 4th October: Circuit troubleshooting
      • 11th October: Electrical repair skills
      • 18th October: Building EWH Kits

Mural Painting

Mural painting will occur in October. Stay tuned for information on how to participate.

Minor in Bioengineering, Mural Competition

Need more information?

Debbie Munro

Senior Lecturer
Civil Mechanical Rm E547A
Internal Phone: 90446