Features  |  Health  

Biomedical Engineering Crucial In Health System, Says Aderolu

By Joseph Okoghenun   |   28 August 2015   |   10:32 pm  



What is biomedical engineering?

Biomedical engineering is a branch of engineering that involves the application of traditional engineering principles and design concepts to healthcare related developments. It is essentially a discipline that interfaces and attempts to bridge the lacunae between engineering and medicine with a view to advancing healthcare treatment strategies in various spheres of diagnosis, monitoring and therapy provision through the combination of the design and problem solving skills of engineering with medical and biological sciences.

It is a diverse seemingly all-encompassing field that includes such novel areas as biomaterials, biosensors, biotechnology, bioinstrumentation, bio signal processing, computational biology, optics and lasers, tissue engineering, biomechanics, clinical engineering among others.

How important is biomedical engineering for the development of healthcare systems?

It is apparently obvious that there is a direct correlation between the level of advancement of any country’s healthcare system and the degree of its investment in biomedical engineering. It is common knowledge that modern healthcare systems are technologically driven and the inspiration behind most of the technological innovations that have come to characterise advanced healthcare delivery come from the stable of biomedical engineers. Examples that readily come to mind include the impact of telemedicine, for instance, in the provision of qualitative and specialist driven care to patients in remote locations, the impact of linear accelerators and positron emission tomography scanners in radiotherapy for cancer patients, just to mention a few.

I know as a medical doctor with clinical exposure both in Nigeria and the United Kingdom that Nigerian doctors are apparently better skilled clinically than UK- trained doctors. But the key difference lies in the differing levels of exposure to advanced instrumentation and technological aids foreign doctors readily have access to at the snap of a finger. This still buttresses the point that their healthcare systems are more efficient, not due to the superior clinical skills of the doctors in those climes, but due to the massive and telling impact their biomedical engineers have made by way of their mind boggling technological innovations.

What’s your assessment of the development of biomedical engineering in Nigeria?

The development of biomedical engineering in Nigeria is apparently still at the most infantile stage. Suffice to say we have not even scratched the surface yet. The reasons for this apparent poor state of development of biomedical engineering are multi-faceted, and range from a poor understanding of the actual nature of what biomedical engineering in itself is all about by clinicians, administrators and even engineers in the traditional engineering fields alike to a general unwillingness of people to leave the traditional comfort zones and embrace evolving fields or frontiers that are yet to be fully explored largely or apparently because of the age long fear of the unknown.

What are the challenges facing the developing of biomedical engineering in Nigeria?

The challenges facing biomedical engineering in Nigeria just like most spheres of our national life are legion. The commonest challenges that readily come to mind and are apparently visible to any discerning observer include over-reliance on importation of medical equipment produced in the western world, poor understanding of the concept of systematic management of medical equipment by hospital administrators, epileptic power supply, poor government funding of research related activities, exorbitant costs of maintaining purchased equipment, corruption and nepotism, dearth of skilled personnel to effectively maintain purchased or donated equipment.

What are the opportunities that exist in biomedical engineering field?

The opportunities interestingly are quite numerous in spite of the low level of enlightenment, and broadly span five main areas of technological entrepreneurship which entail designing potentially commercialisable intellectual property within the field, applying for patents and commercialising these patents; research and development which involves engaging in the academia as a researcher and associate lecturer; clinical engineering, which involves working in a hospital setting as the engineer in charge of maintenance of hospital based equipment; managerial positions with most formally trained personnel choosing to work in managerial capacities as Chief Operating Officers (COO) in well established diagnostic facilities, and independent consultancy services for individuals with degrees in medicine and biomedical engineering to governmental agencies, regulatory bodies and healthcare providers.

Many medical workers often complain of constant break down of equipment in health facilities. What may be responsible for such break down?

The reasons are multi-factorial and are invariably related to a poor understanding and/or compliance with laid down guidelines in the life cycle of the medical equipment. Suffice to mention here that international guidelines clearly articulate that any equipment life-cycle has six main phases namely: planning and acquisition, acceptance, training, quality assurance, risk management, replacement and disposal. Defective or poor management of any of the above phases, especially the planning and acquisition and training phases for end users, would inadvertently and constantly result in equipment downtime.

What is Nigeria losing by not developing biomedical engineering field?

It is quite difficult to quantify the losses in monetary terms, but it is evident that considerable human and economic resources are continually being lost by way of brain-drain of competent professionals and boosting of the medical tourism industry in foreign countries. This is apparently because of a near vote of no confidence in the healthcare sector by the high and mighty in the society. Besides, there is increasing trend of foreigners taking over that sector gradually because of this significant void.

Your message to Nigeria on the development of biomedical engineering?

The reality at the moment is that there is still a huge lacuna between the perception and level of advancement of biomedical engineering between Western countries and developing countries. However, the increasingly felt need to develop a systemic framework for qualitative management of sophisticated medical equipment, the increasing realisation of a felt need to design and fabricate medical equipment locally and the increasing collaboration between African countries and relevant global agencies portends great promise for African biomedical engineers.

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