5 things to know about the international X-ray gap

Two-thirds of the world does not have access to basic radiology services like X-rays or ultrasounds, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. While disease outbreaks and national disasters are more highlighted issues, the radiology gap holds just as severe consequences for developing countries, reported The Atlantic.

Here are five things to know about the global radiology gap.

  1. Radiological tests play a crucial role in healthcare. Ultrasounds help physicians monitor pregnancies, chest X-rays show if tuberculosis treatments are working and CT scanners can catch cancer or internal bleeding in early stages. "Every part of medicine in which the patient has a problem and the answer isn't obvious on physical exam or labs benefits from imaging — particularly trauma," said Jeffrey Mendel, MD, the senior health and policy advisor for radiology at Boston-based Partners in Health, an organization dedicated to improving the health of poor or marginalized populations.

  2. Kenya, which has a population of 43 million, only has 200 radiologists. In contrast, Boston-based Massachusetts General Hospital alone has 126. More radiologists work in four teaching hospitals on one street in Boston than in all of West Africa.

  3. While CT scanners are present in 96 percent of U.S. emergency departments, people living in rural Nepal, Asia, must travel more than two days and spend a month's income to find a healthcare facility with an available X-ray or ultrasound machine, the report states.
  1. Of the facilities that do own these machines, not all are fully functioning. Almost 50 percent of X-rays and more than 40 percent of ultrasounds in resource-deprived countries do not function properly, according to the report, since they are donated at the end of their lives and replacement parts are not available.
  1. Even when these machines do work properly, many health facilities don't have a reliable electrical system to power them. Modern hospitals run on three-phase electric power that offers an uninterrupted supply of current. "Getting three-phase to rural Nepal is a tremendous task," said Ryan Schwarz, MD, COO of Possible, an organization that brought working x-rays and ultrasounds to rural Nepal. "With unreliable current, you run into shocks. This is a problem every day in developing countries."

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