How Can Biomedical Engineers Help in Global Crises?

The world witnessed the human face of the tragedy in Syria, with heart-breaking photos of a three-year old boy — Aylan Kurdi — washed ashore after being drowned, in an effort to escape devastation. My students and I, who had just started the new academic year, struggled to identify what can we do? Beyond occasional tweets and Facebook likes, what do we owe to society to tackle humanitarian crises?

I teach in the department of biomedical engineering. The challenges we routinely discuss in the classroom are of a mathematical nature. Our questions are far removed from those seen by migrants outside the train station in Hungary or on the Aegean shores. But does that absolve us, as practitioners of biomedical engineering? Is there a moral responsibility, both for those who design the curriculum, and those who study biomedical engineering, to contribute to the greatest problems of our time? Or are we all bystanders, armed with a legitimate excuse, to not intervene? I would argue that not only do we have a fundamental moral responsibility to contribute to our greatest global humanitarian challenges, we are also better equipped than we recognize, to improve the lives of the most vulnerable in the times of immense need.

Engineers, historically, have always responded to crises. Be it the time of a natural calamity or the time of violent conflict, engineers have always been at the leading edge, to defend the most precious of all assets: the human life. The nature of conflicts and crises may have evolved, but the fundamental goal of creating solutions to improve the human condition is at the very core of our learning and practice. It is in times like these that we need to test our resolve to do what it takes to serve all people. We —> Read More