What if Ultraportable Ultrasound Devices Were the Future of Healthcare in Africa?

The improvement and miniaturization of ultrasound devices is a result of the need to make ultrasound devices quickly accessible regardless of location. The right diagnosis at the right time in the right place can take you a step ahead in this race for point-of-care diagnosis.

Developed countries have experienced very significant direct and indirect impacts on the quality of care for patients in acute care and those who are hospitalized. However, if in these countries, ultrasound has made it possible to bypass certain additional examinations (standard radiography, CT, MRI, etc) for certain precise indications despite the latter being nevertheless available, it can be deduced logically that under certain conditions, point-of-care ultrasound (POCUS) would have an even greater impact in settings where other modalities are simply not available.

Indeed, developing countries and areas with limited resources often have in common a lack of diagnostic imaging means: old, non-mobile X-ray machines with little or no function at all and you’ll rarely find CT or MRI, and when you do, it is inefficient except in concentrated, large cities.

Add to this an extremely limited electricity supply, which significantly reduces the effectiveness of the existing means even further. It directly results in the impossibility of full-time operation due to power cuts, and indirectly through breakdowns and the gradual deterioration of the equipment related to variations in electrical voltage.

These various problems make Africa extremely fertile ground for the use of clinical ultrasound (POCUS) with exactly the same benefits as those obtained in other better-developed regions, but better still the absence of other means of diagnosis, which could lead clinical ultrasound to become the “gold standard” for clinical diagnosis in African.

The problem, however, is the availability of the devices, especially the type of device. Indeed, the devices currently present in Africa are either static or relatively portable (more than 10kg), which poses a real problem of mobility for an imaging modality that could otherwise be performed at the patient’s bedside.

Ultraportable devices with their small size, their resistance, their autonomy, and their low energy requirement could be a valuable diagnostic aid in Africa. However, there remains the problem of their availability (most manufacturers limit their network to developed countries) and their cost (due to the low purchasing power of practitioners in developing countries), the very idea of ​​obtaining one at its actual cost is completely illusory.

What if the manufacturers of ultraportables developed strategies to support doctors who want to equip themselves and the educated societies with POCUS, set up conventional classroom-based training courses and E-learning free or at a reduced price for all doctors wishing to learn?

Yannick Ndefo, MD, is a general practitioner in Cameroon and a POCUS ambassador for POCUS Certification Academy.

Interested in learning more about ultrasound in global health? Check out these posts from the Scan: