Global ultrasound project ramps up in Uganda as international travel reopens

Dr. Jessica Schmidt scans with students at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital in UgandaGlobal health director Dr. Jessica Schmidt returned from a productive trip to Mbale, Uganda, where she continued work on Project Ultrasound Uganda—a point of care ultrasound (POCUS) training and research initiative launched in 2019. This is Dr. Schmidt’s first time returning to Uganda since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic led to widespread travel restrictions in March 2020.

“I am over the moon to be able to travel again and see our partners in person,” said Dr. Schmidt.

Ultrasound Uganda aims to build the capacity of local clinicians in low-resource settings by developing skills in POCUS and conducting clinical research, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care and survival rates. The program provides POCUS training for pediatric, internal medicine and research clinicians at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital (MRRH) in Eastern Uganda and has experienced great success since its rollout, with over 300 ultrasound scans completed to date.

View pictures from Dr. Schmidt’s recent trip to Mbale Regional Referral Hospital »

POCUS is a useful bedside diagnostic tool in areas without significant technological resources, such as CT machines or portable X-ray equipment, because it’s transportable, user-friendly, and healthcare professionals can be readily trained on how to use it. In low-resource environments, the capacity to utilize bedside ECHO, lung, and ocular ultrasound is especially beneficial.

The program’s success has been in part due to a strong partnership with local physician champions who are able to oversee daily operations and enroll students into the program. Dr. William Okiror has become a local expert in lung POCUS. He authored a dissertation on point of care ultrasound which he hopes to defend for his Masters in Public Health from Busitema University later this year. Dr. Okiror continues to lead the local teaching and training of clinicians for lung ultrasound and other POCUS indications. Project Ultrasound Uganda has had several academic successes as well.

Under the mentorship of Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Peter Olupot-olupot, a preeminent medical researcher and founder of the Mbale Clinical Research Unit at MRRH, the team has shared their work internationally through the African Conference for Emergency Medicine and the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine. Several ongoing research projects are currently underway, including understanding provider and patient attitudes toward POCUS and exploring the use of ultrasound for improving the diagnosis of pneumonia.

Most exciting, however, is the enthusiasm and interest of the new clinicians and researchers at MRRH starting their own POCUS training. “The people just amaze me,” said Dr. Schmidt. “The physicians are able to pick up and adopt this new technology so quickly and immediately put it into action to improve the care they provide.”

The training program will continue throughout the year as residents, faculty, and fellows from UW visit Mbale Regional Hospital for ongoing bedside training. Current global health fellow Dr. Ashwath Gunasekar will be traveling to Mbale later this month to continue the project.