Dialysis relief for remote communities

Michael Smith

As a teenager, Dr Michael C Smith’s (GradCertPHCDev ’12, PhD(BiomedEng) ’16) dream was to work in international poverty relief, which as a young adult crystallised into using technology to make life better for those living in global poverty.

His mission has taken him across the world, working in remote locations on different continents, but after completing his PhD at Flinders University in 2016, Dr Smith found his expertise and strong moral compass was needed closer to home.

His PhD focussed on trying to increase access to dialysis treatment for the remote Indigenous communities of Australia by designing a robust, desert-suitable dialysis system with greater water and energy efficiency using scarce and impure bore water found in these locations. In 2022, Dr Smith was awarded the Australian Water Association Research & Development Excellence Award for his design that purifies contaminated water for dialysis using reverse osmosis.

“I’m proud that one of my designs is working in Kiwirrkurra (Australia’s most remote Aboriginal community) today, keeping the fluoride out of the dialysis water and saving thousands of litres of water every week, but this project really required lots of other people to step up and put in the time, money and effort to make it happen,” says Dr Smith.

That support in-part came from his employer Purple House, an Indigenous owned and run health service that operates clinics and a mobile dialysis unit across the most remote parts of Australia. Indigenous people in remote parts of Central Australia are up to 25 times more likely to suffer from kidney disease, leading to large numbers of people having no option but to relocate to access healthcare.

“More and more I find myself thinking about the problems of town water in remote Aboriginal communities, of which there are many communities with undrinkable supplies,” says Dr Smith.

“The problems are very different, though: some places have trouble with designs, some with maintenance, some struggle to train and retain decent plant operators.”

Dr Smith encourages and hosts engineering students and volunteers from Flinders and elsewhere, trains healthcare staff in the use of dialysis technologies in remote Aboriginal communities, and has forged links between healthcare, engineering and research stakeholders in remote healthcare.

“I’m proud of the little achievements, such as being able to lead a team of engineers with kindness and gentle wisdom to support medical technology in the desert,” says Dr Smith.

“The best achievements go by without making any noise at all.”

Dr Michael C Smith was awarded a 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award for his distinguished contribution to the health and wellbeing of people in remote Aboriginal desert communities through the design and support of water-treatment systems for medical dialysis services.

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2023 Alumni Awards Alumni Awards College of Science and Engineering Distinguished Alumni Award Engineering Higher Degree Research (PhD) Medicine

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