Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Ultrasound in Rwanda

Ultrasound is something I've blogged about before--I'm excited about an inexpensive pocket-sized version. Something like that may be what replaces the stethoscope in the near future, and American medical students and residents are already being urged to make it part of their armamentarium--though takeup is still not as good as it could be. My father frequently laments the difficulty of getting his residents to look for pleural effusions at the bedside, and very few ER physicians routinely do an ultrasound of the heart to determine if an elderly patient with low blood pressure is suffering from a weak pump or a dry one.

But as helpful as ultrasound will eventually prove in wealthy settings, it could be revolutionary in low-resource clinics. Paul Farmer's NGO Partners in Health studied ultrasound in Rwanda, training local physicians in its use. They found that the scans were accurate and sustainable: the Rwandans' and the American trainers' image interpretations agreed 96% of the time, and the clinic continued to scan avidly after the Americans had left. It was found to be particularly beneficial in planning surgeries and in caring for pregnant women.

Every low-resource clinic should have at least one ultrasound machine. The trouble is that the damn things are expensive--but there are a lot of older-generation models lying around the US, and getting those to where there are none would be a good start. Thomas Jefferson University has an equipment donation program, as does the World Federation for Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology.

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