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Canterbury students engineering better health in Africa


While others are at the beach this summer, two University of Canterbury (UC) engineering students will be working on improving health in Africa.

UC Mechanical Engineering students Grace Elliot and Ella Guy are departing for Uganda in mid-December as part of an Engineering World Health (EWH) programme.

Mechanical Engineering Senior Lecturer Dr Debbie Munro, who joined UC this year from Portland in the United States, is establishing medical engineering within UC’s mechanical engineering department.

“We are sending two students to Uganda this summer as part of a nine-week volunteer opportunity where students learn how to repair hospital equipment and then work at regional hospitals teaching the technical staff how to repair and maintain the equipment going forward,” Dr Munro says.

“Many developing nations receive donated hospital equipment, but it rarely arrives with any support for training personnel on how to use, calibrate, clean or repair the equipment and thus ends up stored in a warehouse for ‘someday’,” she says.

“The goal of EWH is to improve healthcare around the world by using this resource that already exists. Students gain a real-world understanding of the health challenges abroad and hands-on technical skills. They are also immersed in a cultural experience where they can learn the language and relate to people in an environment unique from their own. As the world becomes more global, these kinds of opportunities are essential for our future engineering leaders.”

The students will depart 16 December for the Uganda Summer Institute. They will spend four weeks in Kampala at the University of Makerere and nearby Mulago Hospital completing training on medical equipment repair, working with local biomedical engineering students, learning Swahili, and studying design.

“Grace Elliot and Ella Guy are UC ambassadors. We plan to develop our own EWH programme, which will allow 30 or more of UC’s engineering students to participate in this opportunity each year, starting in summer 2020,” Dr Munro says.

The students will take classes alongside Ugandan students, learning how to repair hospital equipment. The UC students will be part of a 35-student cohort of Australian students in an established programme that has been running for three years. They will return to Christchurch on 17 February 2019, just before the new UC academic year begins.

“There is a strong interest among UC engineering students to have international experiences, and this is a new one that we’re developing. It complements our Diploma of Humanitarian Engineering and our Engineers Without Borders programmes, which are more focused on civil engineering and water safety projects. EWH is in the medical device field and a better fit for our mechanical and mechatronics students with an interest in medical applications of engineering,” Dr Munro says.

This summer programme was established by the University of New South Wales through Engineering World Health (www.ewh.org). EWH educates and empowers young engineers, scientists and medical professionals from more developed parts of the world to use their engineering skills to improve global health and enables them immediately to provide meaningful service to patients in the developing world.

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