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HEALTH REPORT - Reusing Pacemakers Could Improve Heart Care in Developing World

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X-ray of a pacemaker
X-ray of a pacemaker

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A pacemaker is a small device that doctors place in people with an abnormal heartbeat. If a heart beats too slowly, the pacemaker will use electrical signals to help set a normal rate. Some devices include a defibrillator, which gives a shock if the heart beats too fast.

Pacemakers may be permanent or temporary. But one thing is sure. Developing countries need more of them as more people get heart disease.

A big problem, however, is the cost. Buying and implanting a pacemaker costs from five thousand to fifteen thousand dollars.

But doctors at the University of Michigan think they know a way to lower that cost. The idea is to reuse pacemakers.

Heart doctor Timir Baman estimates that more than one million people worldwide need pacemakers each year. He says reusing a pacemaker is an ethical way to provide health care to those who have no other way to get one.

TIMIR BAMAN: "A country such as Bangladesh or India, they average less than eight new implants per million. In the United States, we average seven hundred fifty-two new implants per million."

He got the idea a few years ago. One of his patients asked if someone might be given her pacemaker for reuse after she died.

But are used pacemakers safe? Doctor Baman studied medical reports about the safety of pacemakers that were being reused in small studies.

TIMIR BAMAN: "We found that there's no real difference in device infection or device malfunction when you compare it to new pacemaker implantation."

Funeral directors normally remove pacemakers when preparing bodies for cremation. Pacemakers can explode if they are burned. So Doctor Baman asked funeral directors in Michigan to send the pacemakers to him.

He and other researchers at the University of Michigan Medical Center tested the used pacemakers. They cleaned and disinfected the ones in good working order. Then they sent them to doctors in the Philippines, Vietnam and Ghana.

The doctors successfully implanted the used pacemakers in twelve patients. The findings were recently presented at a conference in Washington of the American Heart Association.

Now, Timir Baman has asked the United States Food and Drug Administration for approval to do a larger test. He says -- speaking by Skype from his office in Ann Arbor, Michigan -- that he is hopeful the program will work.

TIMIR BAMAN: "If we show that this is safe, other academic centers in the United States as well as in Europe can then form their own pacemaker reutilization programs and really help out countries in Africa, really help out countries in Asia, who really have no other access to these type of devices."

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, with reporting by Philip Graitcer. You can find and comment on our reports at www.unsv.com or on Facebook or Twitter at VOA Learning English. I'm Steve Ember.

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