Ugandan engineers have created a “smart jacket” that can diagnose pneumonia faster than a doctor by measuring breathing patterns, temperature and breathing rate simultaneously, then sending the information to a mobile app.
The Mama-Ope (Mother’s Hope) kit was born when Olivia Koburongo, 26, had the idea after her grandmother was transferred from hospital to hospital until she was finally diagnosed with pneumonia. By the time of diagnosis, it was too late to save her. Koburongo thought the diagnosis had taken too long, and decided to seek a solution.
“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 said in a press release.
With this idea in mind, Koburongo sought out fellow engineer Brian Turyabagye, 24, and together they assembled a research team to develop the smart jacket.
Pneumonia is a severe problem in Uganda, where up 16% of children under the age of five are estimated to die from the disease each year, according to UNICEF. Having access to an immediate diagnosis could save thousands of lives, particularly in poor communities, where health officials must rule out malaria and tuberculosis with rudimentary clinical tests, sometimes at the expense of pneumonia patients’ lives.
Still in a prototype stage, the jacket can diagnose pneumonia up to three times faster than a doctor could and reduce human error, according to the inventors.
“The processed information is sent to a mobile phone app (via Bluetooth), which analyzes the information in comparison to known data so as to get an estimate of the strength of the disease,” said Turyabagye.
“The problem we’re trying to solve is diagnosing pneumonia at an early stage before it gets severe and we’re 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,” added Koburongo.
“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,” Koburongo said.
The team is now seeking to patent the Mama-Ope kit, which is shortlisted for the 2017 Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize.
“Once it is successful (in Uganda) we hope it is rolled out to other African countries and major parts of the world where pneumonia is killing thousands of children,” Koburongo said.