Ghanaian academic and bio-medical engineer, Dr. Elsie Effah Kaufmann has named eight out of her many projects that have the great potentials of enhancing the delivery of quality healthcare services in the country.
The projects which she spearheads with her students at the University of Ghana have largely focused on solving the problems associated with maternal mortality.
Dr. Kaufmann, whose areas of interest include biomaterials, tissue engineering and engineering design said she is excited about using her application of biomedical engineering concepts to address challenges within the Ghanaian health sector.
Discussing the topic: “Medical breakthroughs: Development of medical devices to enhance healthcare” as part of the on-air series of the Citi Business Festival, Dr. Kaufmann, who is also the President of the Ghana Society of Biomedical Engineers and the quiz mistress of the National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ) noted that, with the needed support, some of these inventions will make a huge difference to ensure healthcare quality assurance.
Here are eight of some of Dr. Kaufmann’s supervised projects:
1. Blood loss measuring device
The students came up with an instrument to quantify how much blood a woman has lost so the doctors can actually attend to the patient in good time.
2. Uterus Massager: According to the WHO, after women have given birth, they should be massaging the uterus so that it gains its tension. If they uterus muscle doesn’t contract, that is how come the woman bleeds. But look at our hospitals; we do not have enough health workers there so you have a whole lot of women in the ward with one or two nurses who don’t have the time to be massaging everyone.
So they usually tell the women to massage themselves, but they are too tired after giving birth to be massaging their uterus. So this device automatically massages the women after they have given birth. All of this is to prevent the potential of getting PPH.
3. Simulator: Many of the medical schools do not have the required resources or manikin needed to train students and health professionals on how to manage a woman when she is bleeding. So the Simulator is a way of getting our medical students and professionals also trained in order to be able to deal with these situations.
4. Blood warmer: A lot of times, some women die because they are not attended to. When a woman starts bleeding heavily and gets into PPH stage, if you don’t do anything within fifteen minutes, they will be dead. So a lot of interventions we have also looked at have had to do with ways of getting these women attended to as quickly as possible. So there was a group of students who also worked on a blood warmer to be used if a patient needs to be taken into surgery quickly.
Sometimes the methods used to warm blood from the freezer at the blood bank don’t help because you need to warm it quickly into body temperature before it can be transfused. Yet we do not have the necessary equipment to do it. So this device ensures that the blood can be quickly and safely warmed without destroying it for the transfusion.
5. Blood clotting tester: We have a batch of students who also worked on another device to test for blood clotting so that when the women are getting to the surgical suite and the surgery is about to take place, the doctors need to know as quickly as possible if this patient is able to bleed easily or has the normal bleeding time so that they decide on how they are going to perform the surgery.
There is a way of checking but it is a very long process so sometimes the doctors have to send the sample out for testing, but if it is an emergency –by the time the results come, the woman will already be dead. So this group of students designed the device to measure how long it takes for a patient’s blood to clot. In less than 15 minutes, they already know the answer and the patient is safe for the surgery to be done.
6. Uterus contraction monitoring device: This was developed by one of my students. It was a project identified at one of the maternity wards at the Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital. We saw that there are a lot of times these pregnant women who are coming to give birth, but there is no way to monitor their contraction because they are not enough nurses. The early stage of labour is characterized by contractions and they are supposed to be monitored closely. But, what the nurses do is to stand close to the women, look at the clock and put their hands on the belly and monitor the contractions that way. But if you have two nurses to 30 women, how many of them can be monitored? If this is also not done, it could lead to deaths resulting from pre-term labour or other complications. This can be a risk to the mother or baby.
So monitoring is extremely important, but unfortunately, because of our setting, we cannot do that. So our idea was to independently monitor so that if these devices are deployed, the nurses can take their time and check without spending time on one patient when others are calling them. That is the first phase of this project. For the next stage, we are planning to use AI to do the monitoring so that the data collected with this device can be analysed to ensure that the contractions are within the normal range.
7. Wireless stethoscope: This is an interesting project and probably one of the less-known projects that we have. I worked with another colleague from the Engineering Department on this project. The device is even more relevant now in these times of COVID-19. During the time of Ebola, we were thinking that it is all well and good to have a stethoscope without a doctor getting close to a patient to go and take the vital signs if the patient is in isolation. It is even dangerous for the doctor to approach so the idea is if you are able to eliminate that connecting tube within the earpiece and chest piece, then the doctor can even be in a different room and remotely monitor the patient signals. So what we have is the chest piece which we developed with all the electronics and we have the Bluetooth linkage between that chest piece and the mobile device.
We have an app on the mobile phone and all you have to do is to ask the patient to place the chest piece and then you can monitor the signals in a different place so we don’t need to get close to the patient in the first place. That was the idea behind the wireless stethoscope. What is even more interesting about this is that, in the medical school, the lecturer can with just one chest actually broadcast the sound to all the students at the same time. So it has an advantage to teaching and you don’t need to have all the students crowded around one patient to hear their heart sound.
8. Cassava for wound dressing: Many years ago, when somebody gets injured or gets a cut on the farm, people will chew a bit of cassava and use it as a form of homeostasis agent to stop the bleeding and help in the healing. They will chew the cassava and put it on the wound. So obviously cassava has been used to for things like that by indigenous knowledge. But we have not really studied cassava for these purposes. So being a biomedical engineer interested in materials for use and all sorts of things, I had over the years had a lot of students using the cassava fibre and starch. The fibre which is the waste and left to smell and getting rid of it is a problem. So why don’t we find a way of harnessing those fibres for use in a certain way? But we didn’t know much about this fibre because nobody has been studying the fibre to know about their properties.
So over the years, I have been getting my students to study these fibres so we think of what ways we can use for the various applications. That is what we have been doing and so the idea was to have that group of students to look out for properties that are relevant to wound healing and dressing. So it has to be able to absorb water so that the wound can dry. They have measured how much water the fibre can absorb and all kinds of interesting things.