Passion to create medical devices

The PDTS team alongside a wheelchair user demonstrating the sustainable wheelchair which has been designed to manage the African terrain./SUPPLIED
The PDTS team alongside a wheelchair user demonstrating the sustainable wheelchair which has been designed to manage the African terrain./SUPPLIED

His passion to be part of the solution to the many problems ailing SA's healthcare system was what attracted Mzwakhe Moqhaisa to the Free State Product Development Technology Station (PDTS) division.

Moqhaisa, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer, is one of the vibrant young people who are assisting to solve some of these challenges, and in his case, making medical equipment suitable for SA conditions.

One of the problems the health department has been dealing with is the shortage of locally produced medical devices because there are few local manufacturers. This has required the government to import equipment, at great cost.

Moqhaisa said the PDTS's mission is to reduce and eventually eradicate this by addressing the root cause boosting interest by exposing the field to youngsters, training and design.

"It is our passion to convert problems within South Africa's healthcare system into innovative solutions by creating products that are tailored to African conditions and the environment.

"We are funded by the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), so we really do not do the work for profit. Rather, PDTS provides a comprehensive medical device product development service, boasting a world-class design and prototyping facility."

Some of the products the unit has developed, include a "sustainable wheelchair", which Moqhaisa said was inspired and developed from the difficulties a man encountered with his regular wheelchair.

"The biggest problem in importing things from outside the country is that when they break no one knows how to fix them. The guy sitting on a wheelchair told us his difficulties and we had to come up with something sustainable, cheap and that can be fixed, which we did," he said.

Another example is the SI Ramp and Scooter Board to treat patients with motion and balance difficulties.

Moqhaisa said an occupational therapist approached them after running into problems with exorbitant costs of importing the machines.

Moqhaisa has been with the organisation for five years after earning his B-Tech mechanical engineering degree at Central University of Technology's Bloemfontein campus and is from Mokwallo, Vredefort, in the Free State

"I have always been passionate about engineering and the impact it has. What attracted me to product development is the satisfaction that comes from helping someone solve a problem they had through a developed device. PDTS has given me a chance to explore challenges and effectively use engineering skills.

"Medical device product development can be a daunting and expensive journey due to a lack of technical, financial and clinical networks.

"However, we all take pleasure in guiding projects from a basic idea to mass production and into commercialisation," he said, adding that popularising the field will make significant inroads into SA's unemployment crisis.

"Developing and manufacturing medical devices locally will contribute to job creation and open doors to exportation. For South Africa to compete internationally, the local medical device industry needs to be supplemented with the latest technology, infrastructure, expertise and skills."

To be part of the field, one needs an industrial, mechanical or electrical engineering degree, but Moqhaisa said media and marketing are also key as major promotion and marketing is needed once a product has been developed.

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