Five Wright State University engineering students were exposed to medical care and foreign culture in the African nation of Malawi by delivering an X-ray machine and incubator to a small rural clinic.
Assistant engineering professor Nasser Kashou, Ph.D., took the undergraduate biomedical and mechanical engineering students as part of a global health service-learning course.
Malawi, in southern Africa bordering Tanzania, is one of the world’s least developed countries. With a largely rural population, its economy is largely based on agriculture, and the government depends heavily on outside aid. Malawi has a relatively low life expectancy and high infant mortality rate.
The students departed May 10, landed in the Malawi capital of Lilongwe and drove north for a day before arriving at their destination.
“We had very good housing, with running cold water and electricity,” said Kashou. “The Malawians were very kind and hospitable as expected. The only not-so-positive thing was that we had to treat our water with essentially bleach.”
Kashou had taught the students how to use the X-ray equipment, relying on information from a course used to certify X-ray technicians in Ohio. The students trained the clinic workers how to use the X-ray machine and protective lead radiation vests, as well as how to develop film manually. A small area in or near the clinic was sealed off to create a darkroom, and a stand was welded together to support the equipment.
“I began teaching the X-ray course to several of the hospital staff with the assistance of some of the students,” Kashou said. “Simultaneously, Department Chair Dr. Thomas Hangartner began working on the design and construction of the X-ray room with a couple of the students. This went on for about four days. At the end of the course, we gave out certificates to those who passed the class.”
The group also delivered an incubator that runs off the power grid but has a backup battery that can be recharged using solar power.
“This equipment will save lives; it’s a huge humanitarian project,” said Kashou. “And humanitarianism is a good quality for these students to have, especially if they are biomedical engineers.”
Kashou intentionally selected undergrads for the trip because he wanted them to see what the needs are in Malawi and then use their experience to design a senior class project in the global health program.
The students are Patrick Morrissey of Yellow Springs, Rachel Bruce of Tipp City, Katherine Gamber of Canton, Luke Stork of New Lebanon and Caitlin Hinds of Cincinnati.
Some of the students prepared for the trip by reading about African culture. Kashou encouraged them to read, but says there is nothing better than the actual cultural experience.
“Once you’re there and you see for yourself, you experience, then you know what reality is,” Kashou said. “There are some good things we can take from their culture.”