Design Outreach

Alleviating Global Poverty Through Life-Sustaining Technology

Innovations in Development

Global Health

The New Frontier for Appropriate Technology

The Problem: Broken and Unusable Medical Equipment

As Design Outreach seeks to address issues that alleviate global poverty, it has become evident that addressing the needs of healthcare in developing countries is an essential component of healthy and thriving individuals and communities.

Equipment graveyard in Malawi
A graveyard of unusable medical equipment in Malawi

The challenges faced by healthcare providers in developing countries are many.  As much as 80% of equipment is donated or funded by international donors and foreign governments. While having the equipment may seem like the answer, not all of it is usable because it is not designed for the conditions that exist in these settings. Other factors challenge the usability of donated equipment:

  • Limited training opportunities for equipment use
  • Remoteness of clinics
  • Home-use conditions
  • Unique supply constraints

“Technologies are either donated and therefore are old and prone to failure or needing specialized upkeep which we can’t provide; are too advanced for our setting; or are prohibitively expensive to import. On the other hand, when we can source technologies in-country they may be of inferior quality and need frequent repairs or even replacement.” 

–Survey response from a missionary doctor in Kenya​

Solutions in the Making

Developing appropriate technology solutions in the global health space

DO is preparing to address some of the most pressing challenges for appropriately designed medical devices through disciplined and informed engineering design practices.  Highlights include: 

  • Developing solutions that are robust, intuitively simple to operate, can be used sustainably, and independent of infrastructure requirements.
  • Guidance by a Healthcare Advisory Panel and engaging hospitals, experts, and nonprofit organizations to identify the most pressing needs
  • Conducting extensive “Voice of the Customer” research
  • Utilizing rigorous research and development practices
  • Following international medical device regulations and standards

Internal and External Challenges Faced in Developing Countries

Initial Project: Karanda Mission Hospital – Improved Humidifier Bottle Design

Initial projects have included partnering with Karanda Mission Hospital in Zimbabwe to find an appropriate and sustainable solution to replace single-use oxygen humidifier bottles. DO investigated new design solutions, but ultimately was able to identify and source humidifier bottles made of more robust materials that can be sterilized and reused.

Humidifier bottles are typically a single-use component high-resource settings. However, due to lack of supply chain and resources, the hospital was forced to use the plastic humidifier bottles repeatedly. Over time the bottle lid attachment wore down and needed to be held on with tape.


Karanda approached Design Outreach about finding a solution in December 2020. As part of the Inspiration phase of the DO Way for Appropriate Technology Development, the DO team explored many solutions but was able to find an off-the-shelf option that could work to replace the disposable bottle. They found a high-quality bottle made with more durable materials including stainless-steel connections that hold up to repeated use and is easier to keep clean. The hospital is now using the new bottles sourced by DO.

What’s Next?

Through extensive conversations with healthcare experts and a Healthcare Advisory Panel, DO has identified a major unmet need in wound care. With a high prevalence of traumatic and chronic wounds, effective and affordable wound care is a necessity for low-resource healthcare facilities. If wounds are treated inadequately or left untreated, they can lead to serious illness, disability, or even death. An appropriate wound care device coupled with comprehensive education and training are key to improving the wound care space.  

The DO Global Health Team is following the DO Way, moving the project into the Ideation phase to further develop requirements, ideas, and prototypes.  

Global Health Resources