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A prototype of a low-cost X-ray machine designed for hospitals in developing countries has been unveiled in Switzerland.
The GlobalDiagnostiX device, which will cost around US$50,000, was developed at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EFPL). This total includes maintenance costs for ten years, making it around ten times cheaper than conventional X-ray machines over a decade of use and helping to ensure the device remains operational, its creators say.
“Everything is contained inside of the individual machine, so you don’t even need a computer to look at the images.”
Klaus Schönenberger, Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne
“GlobalDiagnostiX is a completely new business model and different from anything that is on the market today,” says Klaus Schönenberger, who is leading the project to develop the machine. He hopes the device will be on sale within three years.
According to the World Health Organization, around two-thirds of the world’s population lack access to diagnostic imaging through X-rays, despite radiology being essential for important medical care, such as treating road traffic victims or diagnosing tuberculosis.
Many hospitals in developing nations rely on donations of used equipment that has often reached the end of its expected lifetime, says Billy Teninty, who provides medical training in developing countries for International Aid, a health charity.
The problem is exacerbated because few hospitals in developing countries have staff trained in repairing radiological equipment. Donors rarely include installation and follow-up services as part of the donation — a problem the GlobalDiagnostiX team aims to address.
“A dependable, basic radiographic unit is long overdue and this business model, which includes support for ten years after installation, is unique,” says Teninty.
One way the GlobalDiagnostiX team hopes to lower the machine’s lifetime cost is to use digital photography, rather than a system where images must be printed and then illuminated. This move will negate the cost of the film and chemicals needed to develop images, which are becoming increasingly more expensive as richer countries abandon this technology in favour of digital X-ray systems.
The digital processing has been integrated inside the GlobalDiagnostiX machine, enabling medical staff to view and store the images on the device. “Everything is contained inside of the individual machine, so you don’t even need a computer to look at the images,” Schönenberger explains.
The costs of the machine were brought down by reducing the number of its functions, and changing the design from that of conventional X-ray machines. GlobalDiagnostiX has also been designed to cope with high temperatures, humidity and dust. And it contains an internal battery so it can still operate during power cuts that can be common in developing countries.
The device is a result of the EssentialTech initiative at EFPL, which was launched in 2013 to develop medical equipment that work under developing country conditions.
The team is still seeking funds to explore the possibility of teleradiology, which would allow doctors to send images from the machine over a mobile network to experts elsewhere in the country for a second opinion. Its designers are also working with anthropologists to develop interfaces, such as pictograms, to make the machine easy to use by people who speak different languages, Schönenberger says.