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Importing Affordable Medical Devices

This is basically an idea for an import business specialized in affordable and low cost medical devices (ranging from simple thermometers to potentially more sophisticated diagnostic imaging equipment). The idea is to import such medical devices and/or buy patents in order to manufacture them locally when possible.

Photo of Sarah Fathallah
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  • There are an estimated 1.5 million different medical devices, in over more than 10 000 types of generic device groups available worldwide.
  • Medical devices are indispensable for effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of illness and disease.
  • The majority of the world's population is denied adequate access to safe and appropriate medical devices within their health systems.
  • Almost 2/3 of all low-income countries do not have a national health technology policy which could ensure the effective use of resources through proper planning, assessment, acquisition and management of medical devices. Colombia is one of them (cf. WHO fact sheet PDF file attached).

An actor that could help local governments assess needs in terms of planning, assessment, acquisition and management of medical devices at a regional and/or national level.

Business model
The idea for this company is to import low cost medical devices and/or buy patents in order to manufacture them locally when possible.
The best channel would be to partner with governmental agencies in order to reach out a maximum number of hospitals.

Many of these affordable medical devices have been cited as inspirations in former OpenIDEO challenges, such as the mobile ultrasound, cellscope microscopy, STD testing, ECG heart monitor, radiology app, birth kits, anti-shock garnments or the infant incubator. Other examples include the NeoNurture incubator, prosthetic care (thanks Jonathan) and Inspire, a breathing assistant (thanks Pamela).

The World Health Organizations also released a list of new affordable medical technologies, both commercialized and under development, 'considered as priority medical devices' (Cf. the PDF attached for the full list).     

How do you envision this idea making money?

By selling these medical devices to all the components of the national health care systems (hospitals, clinics, dispensaries, private doctors, care centers, maternities, etc.). Initial costs and investments might be an important barrier, but subsidies and/or grants from international organizations can be a possible solution.

How does this idea create social impact, particularly around improving health?

By helping to provide adequate access to safe and appropriate medical devices within the Colombian healthcare system. By helping the Colombian government bridging the gap in the lacking points of their national health technology policy through proper planning, assessment, acquisition and management of medical devices.

Evaluation results

7 evaluations so far

1. How well do you think this concept considers life in low-income communities?

It is highly relevant to low-income communities - 28.6%

It is somewhat relevant to low-income communities - 42.9%

It does not significantly consider low-income communities - 28.6%

2. How effectively does this concept use social business principles (that is, it has social benefits for the community but does not pay dividends?)

This concept uses social business principles very well - 28.6%

This concept could be easily modified to incorporate social business elements - 42.9%

This concept does not connect with social business very well - 28.6%

3. How easy would it be to implement this concept?

Easy! This could be started immediately - 0%

It would take some time and planning – but I bet I could see progress in the near future - 100%

This concept would need extensive planning, partnerships & resources in place to get going - 0%

4. To what extent will this concept improve people’s health?

This concept would significantly improve people’s health and wellbeing - 60%

This concept seems like it might improve health, although maybe indirectly - 20%

This concept doesn’t really have much to do with health - 20%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world! - 14.3%

I liked it but preferred others - 42.9%

It didn’t get me overly excited - 42.9%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Jonathan Allan

Hi Sarah-- I really hope this concept advances, as it would undoubtedly be a significant contribution in any impoverished region. I presume you've heard this story before, but are you familiar with the NeoNurture incubator [for premature newborns]? It's a great case study in medical devices being given to a poor nation without the necessary resources to repair it when it breaks. Alternatively, the NeoNurture team built an incubator out of old car parts that the local mechanic could easily repair. It reminds me of the book "The Ugly American."

You should check out this impressive group of U of Illinois graduates I met recently who started a company designing affordable universal prosthetics for amputees. Great team/story.

Well done. I look forward to follow this concept in the near future!

Photo of Sarah Fathallah

Hi Jonathan, thanks for your comment!
I was not familiar with the NeoNurture incubator, but I came across something similar a while ago: the Embrace warmer But I really like the "recycled" aspect of the NeoNurture, very cool.
I'm actually SO impressed every single time I come across one of these inventions, like the IPT one, I'm really amazed at how all of these brilliant minds are trying to make a better world each one on their own... And was thinking how powerful would it be if we can gather these inventions, consolidate them, give them better exposure, etc. etc.

Photo of DeletedUser


Sarah - exciting work! Congrats on making it to the evaluation stage. The medical device start-up I founded is called Inspire ( We are designing a low-cost breathing assistant that leverage Bubble CPAP technology for children in respiratory distress. Pneumonia, as you likely know, is the #1 killer of children globally, so this product has the potential to impact many lives. Also, our device is aiming to be 1% the cost of current CPAP treatments, so it's designed specifically for the bottom of the pyramid. Incidentally, our project is an outgrowth of the same Stanford class that produced the Embrace warmer!

Photo of Sarah Fathallah

Hi Pamela! I really appreciate your comment, it's so great to see what you guys have done, this is so inspiring!
I actually wonder what are the biggest challenges you face when you start a company like yours. Visibility? Markets? Clients? What is your growth strategy and what do you think would make your life easier in terms of bringing this solution to a wider audience in the developing world?

Photo of Sarah Fathallah

(Btw, I remember coming by your stand in the last Design for Extreme Affordability expo at the

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