Developing countries often struggle with improving their healthcare systems. For example, the funding of healthcare services is a problem in many of these countries. In Rwanda, donations made up for half of all healthcare funding in the country, and for Kenya, a third of its healthcare is funded by donors. Though the proportion of donations made up for less of the healthcare funding in other developing countries, a heavy reliance on donations to fund a huge portion of their healthcare is not sustainable.

Furthermore, the accessibility of healthcare in rural places is another concern, as some patients may not be fit enough to travel to seek medical help or afford the treatment. Medical supplies may also not be readily available, or easily stored. All of these call for creative solutions - stressing the importance of creativity in healthcare 

Innovative low-cost healthcare solutions for developing countries

Some organisations have developed their own alternatives to provide healthcare services, by adapting and taking advantage of the unique context of their country. The Community Health Africa Trust delivers healthcare to those in the remote, poor communities of northern Kenya through a variety of transport ranging from bicycles to camels, depending on the terrain. Rats in Tanzania were trained to identify tuberculosis by sniffing out human sputum samples, and the HeroRATS have already detected over 2,300 patients who were previously undetected. Instead of bowing down to pressures from the external environment, these people utilized their creativity to provide accessible healthcare for those in need of such services.

The interest in the invention of low-cost medical devices is also another arena where creativity comes into play. “Embrace”, a low-cost infant warmer, was designed and developed in an attempt to reduce infant mortality in rural communities, where death by hypothermia is not uncommon. Other notable examples are the development of a hand-powered centrifuge and inflatable donkey saddles for women in labour. The World Health Organisation’s Compendium of Innovative Health Technologies for Low-resource Settings has further featured a number of low-cost medical devices. Be it low-tech or high-tech solutions, these innovators are constantly thinking out of the box to create low-cost solutions for healthcare issues that developing countries face.

Creativity a skill in everyday life of the doctor

Creativity is not a skill that is needed only by innovators to solve long-standing problems in the healthcare sector, bua also by healthcare professionals may encounter unexpected situations any time on a daily basis, requiring quick creative thinking in order to resolve the problem - and save a life.

For example, a doctor has to drain a wound, but a Penrose drain is not immediately available. Surgical gloves, which are made of similar materials, can be a make-shift drain – by cutting open one finger and open up the other end. Or, a hospital has a shortage of IV stands, and the problem is likely to persist for some time due to the lack of funding - why not place a hook on the wall near the patient’s bed and hang the bags there, which comes with the additional benefit of saving space, another creative solution.

The examples listed above may be temporary, make-shift solutions that certainly cannot replace the Penrose drain or an IV stand completely. However, sometimes a little creative thinking can make all the difference, particularly, when healthcare professionals encounter an emergency without readily available supplies. Be it for developing solutions for healthcare problems in rural communities, or substituting a Penrose drain by cutting open a surgical glove, healthcare professionals should definitely seek to cultivate their creative thinking. MIMS

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