Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Intriguing Thoughts about Biomedical Technology Transfer in the South

Good (1995) piece on ‘Cultural Studies of Biomedicine’ strikes me as unique, because he raises three key questions about the West’s transfer of technology to developing countries. The three issues include ethics, political economy, and competency. The three words summarize the author’s questions about the basis upon which the transfer of technology is executed between the two regions. According to the author, often times, the political economic interest embedded in the transfer takes precedence over the ethical dimensions of the act. For instance, does the recipient of the medical equipment have the competency to effectively use the new equipment? Or is the gift imposed on the recipient because of the political interest of the West?
I find these three key words striking because of the experiences of developing countries with regard to hospital equipment supply. I am particularly drawn to this because of a scene that recently played out in Nigeria over the choice of equipment to be installed in government hospitals. Resident doctors, who are trainee specialists, had opposed the installation of a brand of CT.Scan in tertiary hospitals in government equipment upgrading program in tertiary hospitals in the country. Their grouse was that the country lacked manpower to man the equipment in the hospitals. The doctors also insisted that the energy supply was inadequate to support the use of the equipment. Alternatively, the doctors recommended a different brand that will be of maximum impact.
Curiously, the rhetoric of “State of the Art” hospitals equipment prevailed over the doctor’s concern. Ironically, the doctors represent the country’s future specialists who will use the equipment. So, I ask, should the political economic interest of a group supersede the needs and health of the other? By the other, I mean the developing or marginalized groups. Does the above incident not raise an ethical issue?
The author struck the nail right on the head, when he painted a picture of how Euro- centric ideologies dominated a supposed collaborative scheme between the West and the North: “The first world scientists decided whom and what kind of science-what types of research questions and methodologies-to fund; and many of the scientists from the third world chose to play willingly in this international exchange” (Goody, 1995, p.470). Again, one ponders whether efficient healthcare could be achieved under the above illustrated contexts?
Let me state that my intent in this reflection is to discourage investment in medical facilities in developing countries, but to point out that it is necessary to implement the upgrade in relation to other variables or else, the intention will be defeated. For instance, considerable material resources are expended in the procurement of medical facilities in developing countries even when it is apparent that some of the countries lack the capacity to use the equipment. Particularly intriguing is the fact that the political economic interest of manufacturing companies is shielded from the discursive space.

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