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Humans · Technology

Smart jackets that diagnose pneumonia faster than a doctor

April 07th, 2017
in:Humans, Technology
by:Bob Koigi
located in:Uganda
tags:Mama Ope, pneumonia, Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize, smart jacket, Uganda

For 26 year old Olivia Koburongo a telecommunication engineer at Uganda’s Makerere University, the death of her grandmother to Pneumonia was been the spark that has seen her develop smart jackets together with her colleagues, that are able to detect pneumonia three times faster than a doctor.

This now provides timely diagnosis to a disease that kills 24,000 Ugandan children under the age of five every year. It is a revolutionary technology, coming at a time when the number of global infections has risen, with over 2 million children dying from the disease each year accounting for almost 1 in 5 under five deaths according to the World Health Organization.

But the jackets are also addressing the problem of widening doctor to patient ratio especially in Africa that has taken a toll on the continent’s healthcare. Olivia spoke to fairplanet about the revolutionary technology. 

fairplanet: Why did you pick on pneumonia for your innovation?

Olivia Koburongo: The smart jacket innovation is inspired by a personal story. I lost my grandmother and best friend to pneumonia in June of 2014.

Seeing my superstar helpless on life support got me thinking hard and blaming anyone I could afford to. I thought to myself that if pneumonia had been identified fast at the very first health Centre she visited, then maybe she wouldn’t be in that terrible state. I felt that something better could have been done to save her life. After her passing on as I was going through the flow of events I realized that there was a gap. The gap was in how the diagnosis process was done. So I decided to find ways of bridging that gap

In a nutshell how does Mama Ope work?

Mama Ope is the name we have given to the jackets, meaning mother hope. Once the jackets are worn, the sensors pick signs and symptoms to identify pneumonia in young children. The technology involves a stethoscope which is embedded in a wearable jacket. The jacket is then connected to an android app in a mobile phone via Bluetooth.

The application then monitors a patient’s chest and listens for the sound of the lungs. It also checks one’s breathing rate and temperature. Analysis of the audio can lead to an early and accurate diagnosis of pneumonia.

The jacket can diagnose pneumonia up to three times faster than a doctor and reduces human error. Tell us more about that?

Yes, technology has made it easier and faster to diagnose pneumonia, at least three times faster than a doctor would. With this, the health workers are empowered to do their work faster and more accurately despite the large numbers awaiting them on a daily basis considering the high patient to doctor ratio of 24,700:1 and patient to nurse ratio of 11,000:1 in my country. This also eliminates the possibilities of costly misdiagnosis.

MamaOpe also standardizes medical results as opposed to the traditional method where results vary and are dependent on the level of medical expertise of various doctors.

How is the uptake of the jackets?

We are still testing the jackets so we haven’t rolled them in the market but based on the inquiries we are getting so far from across the country and beyond, we envision brisk uptake. We however need to make sure that the jackets are up to the highest possible standards.

What is the most exciting thing about working on this project for you?

The most beautiful moments for me are when people who have lost loved ones to this threat commend our work. I remember my former teacher at Kings College Budo who confided in me that she had lost her mother under the same circumstances as my grandmother. She was so excited about what we were doing.

Second was a friend from Cameroon who had lost a niece too and was actually seeking collaboration to have these jackets in his country. The fact that when all is said and done it will bring hope to millions of people has made this journey thrilling for me despite the hurdles.

Having embraced technology in this pursuit, what do you feel is the space of technology in addressing African problems?

I think technology and not globalization is the solution to 70 per cent of African problems. We have already seen how innovations are solving some of the problems we never imagined in Africa we would find solutions to while also opening up the continent to a world of new opportunities and possibilities. From feeding a growing population, to finding quicker and sustainable healthcare solutions, technology is at the heart of African renaissance.

How important are the smart jackets to the Ugandan health sector?

Simply put, they are revolutionary for our health sector. Pneumonia kills up to 24,000 Ugandan children under the age of five every year, many of whom are misdiagnosed as having malaria With this, we live to see one of the Sustainable development goals of reducing infant mortality rates fulfilled.

You are among the finalists in the prestigious 2017 Royal Academy of Engineering Africa Prize. What does this mean to your project and resolve?

It is such a huge honour and pleasure to have the world recognize us for such a life changing innovation. We look forward to win, but the greatest win is in knowing that we are making our contribution in defeating pneumonia and giving humanity a reason to live.

In your journey between concept to actualization of this idea, what would you say stood out as the biggest hurdle to the project?

Delays concerning component/material shipping, which sometimes were never delivered. Getting the right partners who understand that this being a medical product will not be out there in the market the following month but has to go through series of stages and iterations before it’s validated. But amidst all this we are happy to have surmounted the odds and are still on course with our resolve.

What’s next for Mama Ope going forward?

We now want to validate the engineering function of the device to ensure that it meets the highest standards, keep on with clinical trials and product validations then roll it out in the market for commercial use. We are really humbled and excited to be part of this historic feat and look forward to the day the world will bid pneumonia goodbye.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Author
Current Map: Our coverage
It is a revolutionary technology, coming at a time when the number of global infections has risen, with over 2 million children dying from the disease each year.
The technology involves a stethoscope which is embedded in a wearable jacket. The jacket is then connected to an android app in a mobile phone via Bluetooth.
We are still testing the jackets so we haven’t rolled them in the market but based on the inquiries we are getting so far from across the country and beyond, we envision brisk uptake.

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