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UC San Diego Medical Student Brings Radiology to Uganda

 

March 28, 2011  |  

Benjamin Johnson, a fourth-year student at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine is determined to make medical imaging technology widely available in low-income countries. His journey started in Uganda, where currently just 35 local radiologists serve the needs of 30 million people.

“One in 22 Ugandan women die during childbirth, most frequently due to bleeding that could have been prevented by ultrasound scanning,” said Johnson. “In the United States, the figure is one in eight thousand.”

Benjamin Johnson

Ben Johnson, UC San Diego medical student,  gearing up for radiology outreach in Uganda.

Johnson is heading to Uganda in May with Rad-Aid and Imaging the World (ITW), two organizations focused on radiology outreach,  to help test a new and inexpensive ultrasound unit that costs only $2,000 – 1/40th the price of  the unit that is currently standard in American hospitals. He will also visit several clinics in the western part of the country in an effort to develop relationships and form new partnerships with local hospitals.

Last year he spent five weeks in Uganda helping ITW implement their pilot project, which aims to provide novel ultrasound imaging techniques to rural regions of the country where the field is virtually non-existent.

According to Johnson, radiology has lagged behind in outreach efforts because, in addition to expertise, it requires a large initial investment in imaging infrastructure, followed by the costs of training staff to maintain and operate the equipment. “ITW’s model takes advantage of the falling costs and increasing portability of modern ultrasound units to address those challenges.  It also takes advantage of the proliferation of cellular networks to allow radiologists to perform outreach without ever traveling overseas.”

“ITW has developed simple ultrasound protocols based on external anatomy, which can be carried out by just about anyone,” Johnson added. “We trained health care workers in Kamuli to perform basic ultrasound scans which capture volumetric cine-loops, essentially videos, of patient anatomy. In the case of maternal-fetal scanning, the ultrasound transducer is swept across the maternal abdomen in five different sweeps to assess the fetal and maternal anatomy.”

These videos are then transmitted to a Picture-Archiving-and-Communication-System (PACS) in North America via a cellular Internet connection, allowing specialists in the U.S. to view the studies.  They then send reports back to Uganda, advising nurses and midwives of any possible health complications.

“Further expansion of such a system could have a tremendous impact on global health care,” said Johnson. According to the World Health Organization, two-thirds of the world population lacks access to radiology. “My professional and personal goal is to make this critical element of modern medicine accessible to all,” said Johnson.

Imaging the World

Click on the above photo to watch a video of Imaging the World 2010.

“Johnson's work can really make a difference,” said Dolores H. Pretorius, MD, professor of radiology and director of imaging at the UC San Diego Center for Fetal Care and Genetics. “The results are quantifiable. The participating clinic in Uganda has seen a significant increase in visits during the first six months since the program was implemented. Those visits provided proper diagnosis and care to women with urgent medical needs in order to hopefully prevent catastrophic injury to the mother and fetus at delivery.”

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Media Contact: Maja Gawronska, 619-543-6163, jcarr@ucsd.edu


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