Medical imaging revolutionised medicine – x-ray in the late 1800s, magnetic resonance imaging in the 1940s, and then ultrasound imaging in the 1970s. Ultrasound now plays a key role in modern medicine but, as might be expected in a country of dualities – ultrasound technology in South Africa is used in juxtaposed scenarios, from high-end hospitals offering high-tech procedures to community clinics offering much-needed basic health care. Let’s take a look at how ultrasound is being made available to more South Africans…

Cardiovascular Ultrasound

South Africa has long been associated with cardiovascular medicine, with the world’s first human heart transplant being performed by Professor Christiaan Barnard at Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital in 1967 (without the benefit of ultrasound – just x-ray to provide the cardiac imaging). Today, cardiovascular medical care is offered at leading medical facilities in both the public and private sectors throughout the country. Here, non-invasive heart ultrasounds are used to provide imaging which helps healthcare providers assess the health of a patient’s heart, and decide on an appropriate course of action. Alas, the number of people requiring advanced cardiac care in South Africa does outstrip the resources available, especially to previously disadvantaged people outside of the private health care system. Private-public sector collaborations are working to address this challenge, through projects like SUNHEART, a not-for-gain initiative by the University of Stellenbosch’s Division of Cardiology and Tygerberg Hospital which aims to both promote cardiac training and to provide quality advanced cardiac healthcare to all – through establishing the unit as a centre of excellence for cardiac imaging, with the latest cardiac ultrasound technology provided by funding partners. Other notable South African achievements in this area include a recent ground-breaking operation in which a young boy from Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal became the first person on the African continent to receive a lifesaving mechanical heart implantation – diagnosing and successfully treating conditions like this would be impossible without sophisticated cardiac imaging.

Ultrasound in Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Most laypeople know ultrasound in the context of maternal healthcare, with many mothers-to-be today having ultrasounds at various stages of their pregnancies to ascertain the health of both mother and her developing in utero baby. Whilst ultrasound technology for both diagnostic and optional pregnancy scans is readily available to mothers of means in the private healthcare system in South Africa, and to those in urban centres at public hospitals for certain diagnostic pregnancy scans, many women in rural, semi-rural, and peri-urban areas in South Africa don’t have access to the resources they need during pregnancy. Projects like ‘Mobile Clinics on Wheels’, an initiative by Philips South Africa and the Rhiza Foundation, along with their corporate social investment partners the Nozala Trust and the Industrial Development Corporation, focus on delivering basic primary healthcare – including maternal-child healthcare – to South Africans in need. Ultrasound screening for expectant mothers is provided via Philips portable diagnostic imaging technology, including the VISQ ultra-mobile ultrasound system – around the size of a tablet – and the Philips Avalon Foetal Monitor used to detect babies’ heartbeats. Then there’s the innovative Philips Wind-Up Foetal Doppler, a portable ultrasound device ideal for use in mobile clinics or community clinics, or by roving healthcare professionals on house calls. Bringing pregnancy ultrasound directly to women, says Philips, ultimately saves lives.

Musculoskeletal Ultrasound

State-of-the-art sports medicine facilities like Cape Town’s world-renowned Sports Science Institute use sophisticated ultrasound imaging to make sure that our best athletes make speedy recoveries from sports injuries, using it to diagnose strains, sprains and tears of muscles, tendons and ligaments, and soft tissue. Small, portable ultrasound machines can be used trackside or on the field to provide potentially career-saving diagnoses for injured athletes then and there, instead of hours later at a hospital. But not only elite sports stars can benefit from this technology – portable ultrasound systems can also be used in road and air ambulances to expedite the diagnostic process, potentially providing patients with better medical outcomes.

Philips Ultrasound Systems

Glenmed is the authorised distributor for Philips ultrasound systems in KwaZulu-Natal – Philips provides diagnostic ultrasound products for a variety of applications, including cardiology and vascular imaging, women’s health care imaging, and general imaging. Contact Glenmed for further information.