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Designing engineering solutions for low-income healthcare delivery – 2024

Uganda - Kampala
Dates June 7 - August 3, 2024
Program Focus

Working with engineering students at Makerere University to identify important, unmet needs in the local hospital; to design engineering solutions to meet those needs; and iteratively prototype those solutions using a local makerspace.

Dates subject to change

Program Leaders
Program Themes
  • Engineering
  • Public Health
  • Science
  • Technology



Information Session:

  • Thursday, October 19, 6:00 PM – POD (B-110 in LSRC)


Healthcare inequities plague our modern world. Like most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, clinics and hospitals in Uganda lack basic supplies and equipment. Donated equipment from Europe and the US rarely survives the harsh environments of high heat and dust, as well as intermittent power. An alternate approach is to design medical equipment with local materials to meet local needs. This approach has driven the Duke-Makerere University partnership since its inception in 2016. With highly capable engineering students and faculty at Makerere, this program combines cohorts of students to co-create solutions to healthcare delivery in Uganda.

Through DukeEngage, Duke University students will partner with Makerere University engineering students to design engineering solutions for the healthcare system in Uganda. Student teams will spend the first two weeks of the program learning about existing problems. Students will do this by observing healthcare delivery and interviewing healthcare workers, including clinical care and surgery, at Mulago Hospital and other local hospitals and clinics, including Kawempe, Naguru, and Kawaala. Students will learn and apply ethnographic and observational research on the medical systems. Next, students will follow a process to identify high-impact problems that can be feasibly designed and built. Based on the Insight Informed Innovation process, student will narrow the many needs to several well-scoped problems.

During the second half of the summer, students will complete the engineering design process. Students will work in teams of four – with two Duke students and two Makerere students – to complete the engineering design process. Following research and ideation, students will iteratively prototype using a recently constructed makerspace in the Biomedical Engineering unit at Makerere. Stocked with locally available materials, student teams will be constrained to materials that are readily available in Uganda. Students will learn how to make and manufacture devices in country.

Throughout the summer, students will engage in reflective exercises. Topics to be explored include practical ingenuity, ethics in design, inequity in healthcare, and bi-national partnerships. Student teams will give presentations to engineering faculty and clinical partners at the completion of the summer.


Community Partnerships

This DukeEngage program stems from the broader Duke-Makerere Partnership, which is aimed at building capacity for Makerere faculty and improving the student learning experience.  In the program, Duke students and Makerere students will work in a partnership model to identify important needs in a clinical environment and work to design solutions to these problems.  The faculty, staff and students at Makerere are extremely motivated and well prepared to partner with us for the proposed project. 

Community partners will also include healthcare workers at Mulago Hospital and other local hospitals and clinics, including Kawempe, Naguru, and Kawaala. 

Tasks during the summer will include:

  •   Learn about limitation of healthcare delivery in Uganda
  •   Clinical immersion and observation
  •   Selection and scoping of design problems
  •   Following research, define engineering specifications
  •   Ideate solution ideas
  •   Iterative prototyping and testing
  •   Application of engineering tools, including microelectronics, woodworking, CAD, etc.

Specific projects may vary, including constructing devices that support neonatal care, surgery, rehabilitation, and clinical care.  Projects will be determined based on the interest of the teams and may include projects such as design of a bubble CPAP, mechanical centrifuge, temperature monitor in an incubator, etc.


Program Requirements

Language: None

Coursework: EGR 101 recommended

Skills: Knowledge of engineering design process; prototyping; technical communication

Personal Qualities: Flexibility, resilience, and patience; strong collaboration and listening skills; openness to learn



Housing, meals, and transportation: Students will live in Edge House, a rented house in the center of Makerere University. Edge House is a 20-30-minute walk from the clinical campus, where the biomedical engineering department and its makerspace are housed. Breakfast is provided at Edge House. Lunch can be conveniently purchased. Students will shop and cook for themselves for dinner and weekend meals. Students will walk to/from work each day. If students need to travel longer distances, they will go via mini-bus or hired car.

Local safety, security, and cultural norms: We encourage students who have questions or concerns about health or safety in international programs to check Duke’s International SOS (ISOS) portal for relevant information. If you have special needs related to health, culture, disability, or religious practices, please contact the program director(s) or the DukeEngage office to discuss whether your needs can be accommodated in this program.

For guidance on how race, religion, sexual/gender identity, ability, or other aspects of identity might impact your travels, we suggest exploring the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.


Academic Connections

This program is open to all, but may especially appeal to students interested in studying engineering (all majors) and global health, as well as those interested in medicine or the allied health professions.

Students who participate in this program might go on to pursue any of the following:

  • Clubs: DEID, Engineering World Health
  • Courses: Capstone engineering design (all majors); Bass Connections programs that focus on design in low-income contexts; Global Health courses
  • Programs: Design Health


Potential program cancellations

DukeEngage cannot guarantee that any program will occur. Programs may be cancelled for various reasons, including COVID considerations.

Reflections from 2022