A team of Ugandan engineers has invented a “smart jacket” that diagnoses pneumonia faster than a doctor, offering hope against a disease which kills more children worldwide than any other.
The idea came to Olivia Koburongo, 26, after her grandmother fell ill, and was moved from hospital to hospital before being properly diagnosed with pneumonia. Kuburongo has said that it was now too late to save her and it was too hard to keep track of her vitals, of how she’s doing, and that is how I thought of a way to automate the whole process and keep track of her health. Koburongo took her idea to fellow telecommunications engineering graduate Brian Turyabagye, 24, and together with a team of doctors they came up with the “Mama-Ope” (Mother’s Hope) kit made up of a biomedical smart jacket and a mobile phone application which does the diagnosis. According to the UN children’s agency UNICEF Pneumonia, a severe lung infections kills up to 24,000 Ugandan children under the age of five per year, many of whom are misdiagnosed as having malaria. A lack of access to laboratory testing and infrastructure in poor communities means health workers often have to rely on simple clinical examinations to make their diagnoses. Telecommunications engineer Olivia Koburongo fits a child with the mama-ope kit at the Makerere University of Public Health in Kampala on January 16, 2017.
A team of Ugandan engineers has invented a “smart jacket” that diagnoses pneumonia faster than a doctor, offering hope against a disease which kills more children worldwide than any other. AFP PHOTO – Bluetooth diagnosis – Turyabagye has said that with the easy-to-use Mama-Ope kit, health workers merely have to slip the jacket onto the child, and its sensors will pick up sound patterns from the lungs, temperature and breathing rate. “The processed information is sent to a mobile phone app (via Bluetooth) which analyses the information in comparison to known data so as to get an estimate of the strength of the disease. The jacket, which is still only a prototype, can diagnose pneumonia up to three times faster than a doctor and reduces human error, according to studies done by its inventors. Traditionally doctors use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal crackling or bubbling sounds in the lungs, however if medics suspect malaria or tuberculosis which also include respiratory distress, the time lost treating those rather than pneumonia could prove deadly for their patient. “The problem we’re trying to solve is diagnosing pneumonia at an early stage before it gets severe and kuburongo  has said that they are also trying to solve the problem of not enough manpower in hospitals because currently we have a doctor to patient ratio which is one to 24,000 in the country. Turyabagye has said that plans were underway to have the kit piloted in Uganda’s referral hospitals and then trickle down to remote health centres. “Once you have this information captured on cloud storage, it means a doctor who is not even in the rural area, who is not on the ground, can access the same information from any patient and it helps in making an informed decision.

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