What happens when colleges take matters in their own hands?

Students Ethiopia

19 March 2020

A story on how Ethiopia anticipated the need for biomedical technicians before the market even realized it

Even though Tegbare-id had to start from scratch with the establishment of the field of biomedical engineering in Ethiopia, they managed to create a high quality training in just a few years with the help of several other training institutes throughout the country. Now they are ready to take the next step in becoming a center of excellence to set up biomedical engineering training in other cities and the more rural regions in Ethiopia. Currently, staff of 10 colleges and biomedical engineers from 6 regional hospitals have already been trained and are on their way to implement biomedical technicians training in Ethiopia that will respond to the local demand of hospitals and health centres. ‘It is something to be proud of. That we started from scratch and that we managed to reach this impact in a matter of years, it could not have been done without all the committed staff and partners’

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It was only 14 years ago when the first steps were taken to establish the field of biomedical engineering in Ethiopia. Tegbare-id, a polytechnic college in the Mexico square of Addis Ababa, the capital of the country, can truly be seen as a pioneer in this regard. They founded a biomedical engineering department in2006, they recruited and trained staff, created a curriculum and an occupational standard that is responsive to local labour market demand, and finally established a full-fledged biomedical engineering skills lab. All of this from scratch.

The former project coordinator and department head Mr.Getachew Alemu and the recent project coordinator Mr. Muhamed Teyb acknowledge that the path was full of challenges. ‘There was no equipment available to practice on, there were no skilled teachers, and the added value of biomedical engineers and technicians was not well understood’. However, after years of gathering equipment through donations and projects, training teachers with the use of foreign organizations,  and establishing a larger network throughout the community has resulted in an unprecedented success story.

Particularly with support of the NICHE project, more than 40 regional and Tegbare-id biomedical equipment trainers and 18 hospital biomedical equipment engineers were trained in a skill development training in three consecutive summer courses. Four biomedical equipment trainers who were at bachelor degree level got an opportunity to upgrade their profession in MSC level. These activities together support 200 biomedical technicians that graduated from Tegbare-id and regional colleges.

Mr.Getachew Alemu

The vision and mission of Tegbare-id did not stop with the establishment and continuous development of their own biomedical engineering department, but stretches to the rest of Ethiopia and even to other countries in the East African region. This is truly an inspiring and unique endeavor that has not yet occurred in the biomedical training field. As a follow up of the capacity building in their own department, Tegbare-id decided that it could play a significant role for the country as an excellence center for biomedical engineering. In the past three years they have started a roll-out program into other regions of Ethiopia to share what they have learned in the past years. In this roll-out they are now training trainers and departments to establish themselves in the field of biomedical engineering. The cascading effect is enormous as already 10 colleges have been trained and are well on their way to implement their learnings in their classes.

One of the teachers of Dire Dawa Polytechnic college who has been trained by Tegbare-id. He acknowledges that ‘the cooperation with other institutes in Ethiopia is very valuable as it allows us to gain more knowledge and skills. We are now better equipped to deliver the much needed service to the community’. Not only did staff of the Dire Dawa Polytechnic college receive biomedical training in Tegbare-id, they also established longlasting partnerships with hospitals, education institutes, and local governments to ensure the sustainability of the project. ‘Technologies are changing quickly, that is why we as teachers should do the same. With the established partnerships we are now able to learn from each other, it becomes a two-way cooperative relationship that can continue to evolve’.

ethiopian students

Throughout the different institutes the newly established biomedical departments are now growing rapidly as the demand is becoming greater amongst students as well as hospitals. ‘Hospitals are more aware of what the biomedical technicians can do for them, they also understand that technicians are not the same as general electricians. They take care of specialized sensitive equipment’. According to a graduate student from Tegbare-id who is now working in a hospital as head of the biomedical maintenance department ‘there are still very few technicians, we fix equipment every day, especially now that the hospitals know what the technicians can fix it. Sometimes we are so busy that we have to spend the night at the hospital, that is how large the need is’. Even though awareness about the importance of biomedical technicians within hospitals has increased in the past few years, it is still a focus area for the polytechnic colleges.

The ambition of Tegbare-id is to establish itself as the main excellence center for Ethiopia in the field of biomedical engineering and technicians training and to become an example for other universities and colleges throughout Eastern Africa. Also the colleges in the regions have the ambition to become centers of excellence to ensure that the biomedical technicians can penetrate deeper into the corners of Ethiopia, such as Jijiga, Afar, and Somali land. Here they aim to reach the hospitals and communities that need the technicians most since equipment is scarce and conditions are hard.

According to Tegbare-id as well as other institutes that are involved in the establishment of biomedical engineering in Ethiopia the key to the success of this project was the commitment of the local staff and the close cooperation and communication with different partners.

This blog is based on various projects amongst which NICHE – ETH210 and NICHE – ETH247 funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, managed by NUFFIC

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