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Reducing medical costs in Africa

Could cheap and accessible mosquito nets be used to replace surgical mesh? Calvin students investigate.

In Burundi, most people survive on less than a dollar a day.

Food and shelter are priorities.

Surgery? A luxury that most cannot afford. Even for hernia repair, a common surgery, materials can cost up to $1,000. That’s three years’ work.

A Calvin grad, professor, and a few students refused to accept that reality.

Jason Fader, a 1999 chemistry grad and one of 14 surgeons in Burundi, teaches and practices surgery at Kibuye Hope Hospital.

In 2017, he heard that some surgeons in developing nations had begun to use mosquito nets as a much cheaper alternative to surgical mesh.

This both intrigued and concerned Fader.

If safe, using mosquito nets would drastically reduce the cost of the frequent surgery. If unsafe, thousands of people were being put at risk and potentially poisoned.

So, Fader decided to dig deeper and call on those he trusted.

He asked his former professor Kumar Sinniah to confront this real-world challenge with him and find out if the hospital should adopt the practice.

Sinniah also reached out to trusted individuals, enlisting a team of students to help work on the problem: Hannah Peterson, Ellie Peterson, and Rachael Bouman.

Hannah Peterson, a biochem major, said it was exciting because they were investigating a current procedure.

“People were already receiving hernia repair surgery with mosquito nets. The sooner that we could complete our experiment, the sooner physicians and patients would obtain some sense of assurance.

“I particularly enjoyed the project because I was able to gain experience with the entire research process,” she added. “I aim to become a physician, and many of these skills will directly apply to clinical settings that I will encounter throughout my career.”

The research was conclusive. “We found that the metal content in these mosquito nets was no different from the surgical mesh,” said Sinniah. “We also found specific types of mosquito nets have the same structural integrity as the surgical mesh.”

Within just several months of their results’ publication, Fader carried out around 50 surgeries using the mosquito nets.

“God instructs us to care for the needy and vulnerable. I saw the project as a way to merge this responsibility and my passion for scientific research,” Peterson concluded.

The team’s research has also been accepted for publication in a surgical journal, with the students as lead authors.


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