Spring 2016 BME 590.04: Transcontinental Design in Uganda

The Biomedical Engineering curriculum at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda features a four-semester sequence in BME design (BME Design I-IV) with the intent of tracing the design process from learning “design basics,” to needs finding, to development of a conceptual design, to the production of actual prototypes.  These MUK design classes are taught by Dr. Robert Ssekitoleko.  The critical point in the design process is arriving upon a preliminary design that is both realizable and addresses an appropriate need, which roughly corresponds to BME Design II at MUK. In the spring term of 2016 Prof. William Reichert created a “special topics” course (BME590.04) with the express purpose of allowing Duke students to work directly with MUK Design II students and engage them in this critical phase of the design process.

Class Structure

Ten Duke students enrolled in BME590.04: four juniors majoring in BME, three BME Master’s students, and three Global Health Master’s students.  Nine of these students were assigned to one of nine design groups comprised of 38 MUK juniors majoring in BME, and one Duke student came up with her own idea to address malaria.   Because the Duke semester started nearly three weeks before the MUK semester, the first portion of the class was spent on vetting problem statements completed by the MUK students in Design I using a Ceptara.com 5 “Ws” template — who, what, where, when, why.  Duke students then shared their analysis with their MUK teams. Through this process one project was eliminated, narrowing the list down to a total of nine projects.

By this time the MUK students were returning for the second semester at the beginning of February we were ready to begin the design process as viewed through parallel lenses of client-based design.

      Five Stage Design Process

     Six Stage Communication Process

  1. Problem definition
  2. Conceptual design
  3. Preliminary design
  4. Detailed design
  5. Design communication
  1. Both sides need to want it
  2. Establish a reliable and open means of communication
  3. Identify an achievable goal
  4. Agree upon a process for proceeding
  5. Set milestones
  6. Assess progress and make the necessary modifications to keep things moving

Our goal was to get to the conceptual design stage by March 1 (a schematic of the components of the chosen design), and then a preliminary design by the end of the semester (modeling/testing chosen design).  As it turned out, we eliminated two additional project ideas, and it took us until March 1 to reach agreement on the problems statements, and to midterm to establish conceptual designs.

Current Project List

The Duke-MUK teams are now working on their preliminary designs.  The final list of project ideas is:

  1. Reusable heat and moisture exchange filters
  2. Shunt monitor for hydrocephalus
  3. Charcoal-fired autoclaving unit
  4. Biomarker test strip for pre-eclampsia and eclampsia
  5. Near-infrared imaging system for detecting veins
  6. Filtering particulate matter emissions from medical waste incinerators
  7. Redesigning medical vaccine carriers
  8. Oxygen flow regulators for neonatal oxygen therapy
  9. Lower back pain braces


Communication has been largest impediment in achieving progress, agreeing upon project ideas, and identifying a path forward.  In addition to the regular issues with the unreliable Internet at MUK, communication was made even more difficult by the Uganda General Elections that essentially shut MUK down for two weeks in mid February.  Fortunately six of ten students in the class made the Spring Break trip to Uganda and met their team MUK team members.  This trip was hugely important because it provided context and also allowed for face-to-face communication.

After some of the students visited their teammates in Kampala over Spring Break, the class is reenergized and converging on the preliminary designs they will produce at the end of the semester.