‘Enough people have advised us against it’

Targets and drivers

Dieuwertje Drexhage was shocked by the mountain of discarded medical equipment in Kenya and decided to contribute to affordable and appropriate equipment for the African market.

‘For my master’s degree in biomechanical design at TU Delft, I did an internship at a hospital in the Kenyan city of Eldoret. In the workshop, biomechanical engineers maintain all types of medical equipment. Think dialysis and surgery equipment, but also beds and refrigerators. They take broken things apart, clean them and see if they work again. They save parts for recycling. Despite this, I saw next to the workshop a dump full of useless equipment. The hospital receives many donated items that are completely out of step with the local situation. Spare parts for old equipment are often no longer available, and new equipment does not always work properly. For example, there was an air filter that immediately filled with dust and broke after a day. Disposable parts are cleaned and reused. Then I thought: I can try to make high-end equipment 3 percent better, but I can also make completely different equipment and help so many more people.’

Targets and drivers
To make the world a little better, that is the ambition of many engineers. Read their personal stories in the file Measure and drive.

Laryngoscope

‘I am trained in surgery for all research groups in Delft within 3D printing. My graduate supervisor Julie Fleischer had created a design for a video laryngoscope, a device with a camera used to place a breathing tube during operations. When she presented the design at a conference, doctors already wanted to buy it. But making a startup successful is an intensive process. It didn’t fit into her life at the time, so she asked if I wanted to do it. Julie had come up with a completely reusable laryngoscope without a screen. A normal device has a screen that shows the vocal cords so they are not damaged when the tube is inserted. It is very expensive and has disposable parts. Our version connects in two seconds to a smartphone or tablet, which almost all African anesthesiologists carry with them. I decided to take up the challenge of developing that idea, although I found it very exciting. I applied for grants and found a co-founder with knowledge of sales and negotiations, Thom Weustink. He still had a job, so we could only work on our business plan on Friday night and Sunday. Only when we received a follow-up grant was he able to quit his job and Layco Medical Devices took off in earnest. Our prototype was recently tested in several Dutch hospitals and proved to be as good as a conventional video laryngoscope. Tests in Africa will follow this summer. We hope that our device will be ready and certified next year. We still receive many messages from African anesthetists who cannot wait for the time to come.’

Difficult market

‘We will first market the laryngoscope in Egypt, but we are still looking for an investor for the first product series. We will also encounter laws and regulations, bureaucracy and corruption. Initially, we must cooperate with local distributors. They promise everyone mountains of gold and say they know everyone. So how do you choose a good one? Later, we hope to establish local factories. My dream is to expand our company with products that are better suited to the local market. For example, we recently launched another product, a manual vacuum cleaner for childbirth. Africa is a difficult market, especially for medical devices. People have probably discouraged us from going into it. It’s an adventure and so far it’s going well’.

Text: Amanda Verdonk
Portrait: Bianca Sistermans

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