Pneumonia remains the leading infectious cause of death among children under five, killing 2,500 children a day, according to UNICEF. Half a million children under five in sub-Saharan Africa die from the disease every year, with the region accounting for half of all global deaths from pneumonia of children under five.
One of the complications that leads to these deaths is poor diagnosis, and to tackle this, Brian Turyabagye, a Ugandan engineering graduate, has designed a biomedical “smart jacket” that will quickly and accurately diagnose the disease by detecting symptoms such as temperature, breathing rate and the sound of the lungs.
The “Mamaope’’ or “mother’s hope” jacket, named so in reference to the 27,000 children who die of pneumonia in Uganda every year, is three to four times faster than a doctor, meaning that treatment can be started immediately.
The smart jacket comes with a pneumonia diagnosis kit that helps to distinguish pneumonia’s symptoms from a variety of other diseases, eliminating human error in diagnosis. It looks for the most common symptoms of the disease in young children - a fever, which may be mild or high, shaking chills, and shortness of breath - using a thermometer and a flex-sensor to check breathing rates. It connects to a mobile phone for interpretation of results, and can be used to diagnose pneumonia within two minutes.
If a patient presents with signs of pneumonia, a red light on the jacket switches on, prompting further screening.
While Turyabagye was studying engineering, his friend’s mother fell seriously ill, as he accompanied her to the hospital, he watched as doctors diagnose her with malaria and prescribe various treatments accordingly. Only as she lay dying did they realise their initial diagnosis was wrong. It was pneumonia that was killing her, the Guardian reports.
Shocked by the circumstances surrounding the death, he began researching ways for diagnosing pneumonia and its treatments. The 24-year old discovered that pneumonia affects far more children than adults.
Turyabagye's innovation has been recognized by the Royal Academy of Engineering, and shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
Turyabagye attributes many of these deaths to misdiagnosis, stating that in villages and remote areas, children fall sick and are treated for malaria instead of pneumonia since the signs are similar.
Currently in the prototype phase, the Mamaope jacket will undergo an official national medical examination in January before it can be certified for use in health centres and hospitals in Uganda.
Cover Image: Brett Eloff/The Royal Academy of Engineering