Designing Medical Devices
for Developing Countries
by Dr. Delphine Dean, Dr. John DesJardins, and Professor Melissa
McCullough, Carson Brewer, Ian DeMass, Kaleb Guion, and Casey
Young - Clemson University Bioengineering Department
Amother’s thoughts when she first brings her child into the world should be ones of joy and catharsis, but all too often this isn’t
the case. Some infants are only minutes old and already must begin
fighting to survive. Little lungs expand for the first time, bulging eyes
take in light, and the system is assaulted with change. With such a
barrage of stimulation it’s no surprise that many struggle to regulate
their body temperature, and even more require close monitoring of
basic vitals early in life.
In the United States, we are able to care for these children with
the help of neonatal incubators, but there is a significant portion
of the world that does not share this luxury. Insufficient funding,
frequent power grid fluctuations, and rural locations all contribute
to the lack of neonatal care found in low-resource countries.
In an analysis of one of these developing countries, Tanzania,
Africa, the disparity between the US’s contribution to citizen
health and that of developing countries is apparent. Tanzania is
located on the eastern Indian coast of Africa with a population of
roughly 50.8 million people, 69.1% of which reside in rural areas.1
According to UNICEF, the Republic of Tanzania allocates 2.8% of
the GDP, or $17 per person, to the health system. 2 Compare this
to the $9,523 the United States provides each citizen and it’s easy
to see part of the reason there exists a discrepancy in the quality of
Powered by Clemson University’s Creative Inquiry (CI)
Program, our team in the Design of Medical Technology for the
Developing World CI has designed and built a robust infant temperature monitoring and regulation system, addressing the needs of
rural clinics. Clemson’s Creative Inquiry program aims to empower
undergraduate students to work on research and design project
stemming from their own curiosity or from the pressing needs of
they observe in the world around them. Our work was directed
specifically toward Tanzania, where local connections allowed us
important insight into the exact problem we were addressing.
During our time in Tanzania, we primarily worked in the Kisarawe District Hospital in Kisarawe Town, 96 km (60 miles) southwest of the country’s largest city. Staying in this more remote setting
allowed us to understand the limitations associated with living in a
rural Tanzanian town.
When we first entered the hospital’s neonatal ward, we saw a
room blocked off with curtains designated for birthing and the rest
of the ward had open patient beds where mothers were lying with
their children. As one child cried, the next one was quickly awaken
and began to do the same. The room quickly was filled with wailing
tears and each mother tried to calm their child. There was one
neonatal table in site, but it was broken with an error code that was
later identified as a manufacturer’s error and needed to be sent back.
The background beeps and chirps continuously heard throughout
Clemson University bioengineering students with Kisarawe
Town research team.