Imaging in Developing Countries

Special Interest Group

I have been in the X-ray industry for most of my working life, 42 years this year. Following my apprenticeship in electrical contracting I went to work as a maintenance electrician at the Royal Infirmary in Oldham, now demolished to make way for the town’s sixth form college.

Whilst I was there I became interested in X-ray equipment when I was asked if I would try to repair a dental X-ray machine. Fortunately the fault was simple and easily repaired but as a result my interest in X-ray equipment grew. One of the radiographers introduced me to the service manager of one of the major equipment suppliers and I applied for a job.

I worked as a service and installation engineer in three of the major companies in the industry and then decided that the time had come for a change in direction. I applied for the X-ray engineers post at the North Western Regional Health Authority (NWRHA). This post allowed me to maintain my interest in equipment but no longer in a hands-on role. After a while I got used to the hands off approach but still missed the practical aspects. I still keep a workshop and build and maintain various electrical and mechanical items “just to keep my hand in”.

Following government changes in 1995 the NWRHA along with all the others was closed and the section I worked in was bought out by a private company. Two years later the company closed us down and all the staff were made redundant. At this point I started my own consultancy business providing similar services to those provided by the NWRHA.

I have, in the years since becoming an independent consultant worked on quite a few major capital schemes and various smaller jobs within the NHS and the private sector. I decided that I would close my business in 2009 when I was 65. I wanted to retire from the consultancy side of the business but did not particularly want to stop work entirely.

In the early part of 2007 fate stepped in and I received a telephone call from the Raven Trust in Scotland (they had been looking for an X-ray engineer and found my website). The Raven Trust is a charity set up by John Challis and his wife Sue to collect and ship items for projects in Malawi. John had been involved with the dismantling of an X-ray machine from a clinic in Scotland which had then been shipped out to Malawi and re assembled.

The equipment was installed in the hospital at Ekwendeni near Mzuzu in Northern Malawi where it had provided good service for a number of years. Some building work had to be undertaken and the equipment was removed to a store for safe keeping. Following the works the equipment was returned to its original location but unfortunately it no longer worked.

Local engineers had tried to repair the equipment but had had no success so it was at this point John decided to look for an X-ray engineer in the UK. He explained the situation to me and asked if I was prepared to help. I agreed and asked him to send me some photographs of the equipment and its circuit drawings so that I could familiarise myself with its workings.

On his last visit to Malawi John had taken a printed circuit board out of the equipment as some of the components looked to have been overheated. This board along with some photographs of the equipment were posted to me, along with the news that they had never had any circuit diagrams. The equipment had been removed and re installed “brick by brick” using labels on wiring photographs and hand drawn diagrams. The PCB arrived and I checked it out and found it to be working apart for some slightly swollen capacitors which I replaced. It became apparent that this board was not the cause of the fault.

There is an organisation in Malawi which provides medical and technical support to the Christian Charity hospitals. This organisation CHAM (Christian Health Association of Malawi) has medical technicians who try to maintain all the medical equipment in their hospitals. When John returned to Malawi on his next visit he took one of the technicians with him to see if they could repair the machine with some advice sheets I had sent to him. Unfortunately they did not succeed. We even tried using a satellite telephone but due to a tropical thunderstorm no more than a few words could be exchanged. So the equipment remained broken.

The main purpose of John’s visit on this occasion was to install another piece of X-ray equipment at the hospital in Livingstonia some 150 Km North of Mzuzu. Not only were John and the local workforce installing the equipment but they also had to build the building to house it. The equipment had been acquired by a charity in the UK and was complete including the lead protective screen and the lead doors for the X-ray room. The new building was to house the X-ray department, the path lab and the blood transfusion lab as well as offices and toilets for the staff. This work progressed well during John’s and others visits and was eventually completed in late 2007.

Making it Work in Africa

Keith Feay, an x-ray engineer for 42 years, visited Malawi in May 2008. Here he recounts his experiences.

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