There have been many stories of HTM professionals who have stepped up and helped colleagues in developing countries with knowledge, parts, equipment or funding. It’s not only a trait of what has made many highly developed counties great, but it is a particularly endearing quality of many in the biomed profession.
With the tools and ability to better the lives of people in many underserved communities around the world, some members of the biomed community have volunteered their time, fundraising skills or biomed skills to improve the conditions of fellow biomeds, patients and clinicians around the world.
One of those biomeds, Bill Gentles, Ph.D., CCE, was recently recognized by AAMI as the recipient of their AAMI Foundation and ACCE’s Robert L. Morris Humanitarian Award.
Gentles, a Canadian semi-retired biomed living in Toronto, spends his time these days doing “some consulting work conducting accident investigations in situations where a patient has been injured and a medical device is suspected of contributing to the accident.”
In the AAMI nomination, it states that Gentles was “a positive role model” with “a passion and dedication” for both humanitarian and clinical engineering (CE) efforts around the world. Gentles, who has 50 years of experience in the healthcare technology management (HTM) field, has been the leader of the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society’s “Tools for Techs” project since 2017, which has provided crowdsourced cash grants to frontline HTM professionals in Ghana, Mongolia, Tanzania and Rwanda to purchase badly needed tools so they can be more effective in their roles.”
AAMI pointed out that Gentles also “has administered the INFRATECH International Email Discussion Group on CE/HTM.”
The “Tools for Tech” concept is an interesting approach to putting useful and working tools in the hands of biomeds in developing regions to allow them to most effectively do their jobs. Gentles explains how the concept came about.
The Right Tool for the Job
One of the best uses of the Internet is the concept of crowdsourcing. It allows a person or an organization to put out a call to raise funds for a good cause. The funds can accumulate through the combined resources of dozens or hundreds or thousands or millions of donors who contribute online.
Gentles employed this modern approach as a catalyst for putting much-needed tools in the hands of biomeds in developing regions.
“I have been active in the Canadian Medical and Biological Engineering Society (CMBES) for many years, including a stint as president. A few years ago, I proposed to the executive that we should set up an International Outreach Committee to assist biomeds in low-resource countries, who are facing many of the same problems we do in Canada, but with very limited resources, and very few tools,” Gentles explains.
He says that one of the projects of the committee was to start a fund to buy tools for biomeds in low-resource countries.
“This idea arose out of my work in many low-resource countries, where I was struck by the difficult conditions the biomeds were working under. I have done volunteer work in Ghana, Ecuador, Chile, Nicaragua and Kosovo. The society generously provided some seed funding, which we used to award our first tools grant, set up a website (www.tools4techs.ca) and start looking into how to raise additional funds,” Gentles says.
Gentles says that there are many websites that will help you with crowdsourcing campaigns (e.g. gofundme.com), however many of them require a time-limited campaign with a specific funding target for the campaign. They also typically charge a percentage of funds raised.
“We found one such website that returned all funds pledged to the campaign, and asked donors to chip in a little extra to support the website. A fundraising campaign on this site does not need to have an end date,” he says.
“The website is chuffed.org. We started our campaign on this website in January 2018, with a goal of raising $5,000. In the first year, we got close to 50 percent of that goal, and awarded three more tools grants. The grants started out as an amount of $300 (Canadian dollars), which is about $250 U.S. dollars,” Gentles adds.
He explains that to apply for a grant, an applicant must fill out a brief application form and then send some brief video clips describing their workplace and their need for tools.
“To save on shipping costs and customs duties, we provide cash grants to the recipients, so that they can buy tools in the local marketplace. This gets the biggest bang for the buck, and assures us that the applicant is getting things that they really need. We ask the recipient to then send us a video showing the tools they have purchased, as well as copies of all receipts,” Gentles says.
He says that they publicize the campaign among the community of biomeds in Canada and the USA. There is a link to the fundraising website on the tools4techs.ca website. Donors can make a donation with a credit card. The website transfers funds raised to a CMBES bank account on a monthly basis.
Connecting Biomeds for Shared Knowledge
Gentles has also administered the INFRATECH International Email Discussion Group on CE/HTM sponsored by the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization for nearly 20 years.
“The INFRATECH email discussion group is an informal gathering of over 400 persons around the world who are interested in issues of clinical engineering and health technology management in low-resource countries,” he says.
“I am the moderator of the list. It goes through periods of very little activity, then periodically someone will raise an issue that many people have opinions on, and a lively discussion ensues. HTM professionals, working in low-resource countries, will sometimes use the group to post a question about policies or regulations, and others from around the world will share their knowledge and opinions,” Gentles adds.
He says that as an example, there was a recent discussion about the practicality of refilling the canisters in oxygen concentrators with zeolite, rather than buying replacement canisters, which are quite expensive.
“Although the discussion didn’t result in a solution, much useful information about oxygen concentrators was shared,” he says.
Gentles reveals that his wife says he has failed three times at retirement.
“My longest job was director of biomedical engineering at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. I worked in that position for 28 years. Sunnybrook is a large teaching hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto Medical School. It has a trauma unit, open heart surgery, and a large neurosurgery program, as well as the usual tertiary care services,” he says.
The humanitarian award is well-deserved and a dollar figure cannot be put on the very real benefit that those tools and knowledge do to save lives every day.
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