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The last mile: startup gets medical equipment up and running in Africa

Founded at MIT Sloan, Medical Devices as a Service provides defibrillators, ultrasound machines, and other equipment to Nigerian hospitals.

By Amy MacMillan Bankson  |  August 8, 2016

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Oluwasoga Oni tests a newly installed patient monitor on a hospital staff member in Ondo State, Nigeria

Oluwasoga Oni’s father, a doctor, delivered him at Inland Hospital in Ondo State, Nigeria more than 30 years ago.

Today, Oni, a graduate of MIT’s System Design and Management program, is delivering new and refurbished medical equipment to that same hospital through his startup, Medical Devices as a Service, or MDaaS.

While he was still an MIT student, Oni realized he could solve some critical problems for Nigerian hospitals in need of basic medical devices. “The challenges [in Nigeria] are the high cost of the equipment, the fact that there is little to no financing available for medical equipment, and the lack of skilled biomedical technicians to fix the equipment,” said Oni, who was a Legatum Fellow at MIT.

Charities often donate medical equipment to African hospitals, Oni said, but frequently, factors such as high temperatures and an unreliable electrical grid are not considered. The equipment is sometimes left at hospitals with no instructions on setup or maintenance, and ends up unused or broken within a few months. Meanwhile, in the United States, viable used medical equipment is abandoned in warehouses for years, in a kind of equipment purgatory, after hospitals upgrade to the latest models.

“There’s a huge inventory of equipment not being used in the United States and a serious shortage of quality medical equipment, and maintenance services in places like Nigeria,” said co-founder Genevieve Barnard, MBA ’18, who is also a Legatum Fellow and a dual-degree student at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

The for-profit company, which is still in its pilot phase, aims to bridge this gap. The MDaaS team sources refurbished medical equipment in the United States, then targets small to medium-sized hospitals in Nigeria that need it. Although MDaaS occasionally identifies new equipment, the company mainly focuses on high-quality refurbished pieces because they are a better financial fit for most hospitals, Barnard said.

2016-Mdaas team The Medical Devices as a Service team in Nigeria

The company works closely with doctors and hospitals to find out what they need before they look for equipment. The team does research to understand the conditions—such as power fluctuations or humidity levels—in each setting, and provides support when maintenance is needed. MDaaS handles the shipping and installation and then offers initial training on each piece of equipment. Customers receive one year of free pre-planned maintenance support through the company’s biomedical technicians.

MDaaS currently has five employees including Joe McCord, MEng ’15, who is focusing on supply chain logistics. As it grows, the company plans to hire more service technicians.

MDaaS will formally transition from the pilot phase to full operations in 2017.