Imaging in Developing Countries

Special Interest Group

In June 2008 Malawi opened her first MRI service, courtesy of combined generous efforts from Malawi Government, GE Healthcare, Michigan State University and National Institutes of Health. This is a 0.35T GE Signa ovation. This magnet is the only one for the country and would also serve the population along the borders in neighbouring countries like Zambia and Mozambique. The impact of the magnet includes better imaging of the brain in children with Cerebral malaria, imaging in Neuro-Aids, skeletal trauma and Orthopedics. Other major areas of its impact are teaching of medical students and in reducing the costs as patients used to travel to South Africa for MRI.

Fig 2. Malawi’s first MRI: 0.35T GE Signa Ovation was donated by General Electric Healthcare. Inputs from Michigan State University, The National Institute for Health and the Government of Malawi together made the establishment of the MRI facility possible in 2008.

There are three hospitals with CT scanners namely; Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (government), Mwaiwathu and Blantyre Adventist Hospitals (private). All these hospitals are located in the southern region commercial city of Blantyre. This means that patients from the other two regions central and north that require CT scans have to travel to Blantyre, a distance of 400 and 800km respectively.

In almost all the district hospitals there are ultrasound equipment. Examinations that are done mainly are obstetric scans to assess fetal well being and viability, gynaecological scans to assess pelvic mass and general abdominal scans. Due to lack of proper training most of these machines are underutilised and the quality of scans is poor.

The majority of the hospitals have automatic processing equipment save for a few districts that are still using manual processing. The biggest challenge in x-ray equipment in Malawi is maintenance. There is a lack or qualified technicians to repair or service x-ray equipment and the result is that most of the equipment is lying idle for years. There is also shortage of accessory equipment like actinic markers.


Diagnostic imaging is an important adjunct to clinical examination in the care of patients. Malawi as a developing country therefore faces a number of challenges in the delivery of diagnostic imaging services such as insufficient radiologists, insufficiently trained sonographers and CT and MRI Radiographers. With regards to equipment there are no sufficiently qualified engineers to repair and service x-ray equipment. However, it is hoped that current developmental strategies being undertaken by the government may play some part in addressing these challenges.

Cowles Andrew Chilngulo

MRI Centre, Blantyre Malaria Project

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