Thousands of Indians who suffer from heart problems but cannot afford a pacemaker are to receive secondhand devices from deceased Americans.

More than 50 patients had the recycled devices fitted in a pilot scheme in Mumbai, according to Bharat Kantharia of the University of Texas Medical School, Houston.

Brian Pinto, chief cardiologist at Holy Family Hospital, Mumbai, western India, said the project was a world first and the US-Indian medical team behind it was planning to extend it to include other hospitals in the U.S. and India.

"We are fitting six or seven recycled pacemakers per month and the numbers are steadily increasing," he said.

Globally, an estimated one to two million people die each year because they cannot afford a pacemaker, a device that uses electrical pulses to the heart to maintain a regular heartbeat.

Pinto said that patients who could afford a new device would pay between $2,050-$8,200 for a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator, plus 100,000 rupees to have it fitted. Secondhand devices are free, with surgery costing 30,000-40,000 rupees, and in some cases nothing.

"Like other things, pacemakers can be recycled," Kantharia said in a study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology. "It is optimization of resources since people are dying in India due to lack of resources."

Pinto said there was a 98 percent success rate, "a major boost in our city where such a huge population suffers from cardiac diseases."

America's Food and Drug Administration does not permit the reuse of pacemakers. Kantharia is seeking FDA approval to study the project's effectiveness.