Biomedical Engineering Education for Developing Countries

By Tania S. Douglas

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of the IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, published by the IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology.
Click here to read the entire article.

This article summarizes research relating to education for humanitarian engineering, which is also referred to as “engineering for development”. In the author’s words, “This new discipline represents a transition in engineering education in two directions. First, engineers are being educated to address issues of human development and to regard engineering as a service to humanity. Second, they are being prepared to work in a global context to ensure global competitiveness, cultural inclusivity and sustainable design.”

BME in the world today is a factor in improving health care; improved health can result in higher employment, innovation, and growth. The author points out that few of these benefits have reached developing countries. One factor in this failure relates to a lack of innovative solutions focused on the needs of the global poor in general, and populations in developing countries in particular. As one result, medical equipment in developing countries often is of poor quality and does not meet the needs of the local healthcare facilities. The article identifies some reasons for this.

The author suggests that universities in developing countries could benefit from lessons learned by their counterparts in the developed world that have been implementing humanitarian engineering programs. A number of universities in developed countries have created global health programs to train students in developing solutions that would meet the health of developing countries. The author critiques these programs and suggests factors that may limit their effectiveness.

A number of humanitarian engineering intervention programs focusing on BME education are presented. These include design projects; partnerships with government, NGO, and industry; contextual listening training; and ethics/policy exposure.

The article then turns to the question of how BME education in developing countries could benefit from the experience of programs and interventions in humanitarian engineering in developed countries. Such programs in the developing world could be even more effective, because of their inherent opportunities for close engagement with local populations.

This leads to the intriguing possibility that, in turn, educational solutions created in developing countries could enhance the programs in the developed world, leading to true “world class” research./p>


Tania Douglas ( is with the Biomedical Engineering Programme; the MRC/UCT Medical Imaging Research Unit; and the Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town, South Africa.