EMPOWERING THE UNWELL

Smart jacket that diagnoses pneumonia faster than a doctor can

UGANDA • When her grandmother died of what was diagnosed as malaria - after six months of symptoms such as a cough and fever - Ms Olivia Koburongo, 26, was devastated to discover that, in fact, the older woman had been suffering from pneumonia.

Children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to pneumonia. According to Unicef, pneumonia accounts for almost one million deaths of children worldwide every year. In Uganda, Unicef estimates the disease kills up to 24,000 children under five every year, many of whom were misdiagnosed with malaria.

In 2014, Ms Koburongo, an engineering graduate from Makerere University, and four others came up with Mama-Ope (Mother's Hope), a biomedical smart jacket that detects and analyses pneumonia symptoms in children.

Currently in prototype, the jacket is worn by the child, and its sensors pick up sound patterns from the lungs, temperature and breathing rate. In four minutes, data is computed and sent to a mobile phone application which then gives a diagnosis.

"The jacket diagnoses, measures the extent to which the disease has affected the lungs and also enables tracking the progress of the disease since diagnostic information is shareable," said Mr Brian Turyabagye, one of the founders of the project.

The team is seeking certification for its award-winning innovation from Uganda's Ministry of Health.

Mama-Ope (Mother's Hope) is a biomedical smart jacket that detects and analyses pneumonia symptoms among children, with the aim of providing more accurate diagnosis. Ms Olivia Koburongo, a graduate of telecoms engineering from Makerere University, says the team has developed a prototype that is three times faster than the standard diagnostic process in Uganda.

According to studies carried out by its inventors, the jacket can diagnose pneumonia up to three times faster than a doctor can, and reduces human error.

After displaying the result, the app goes on to advise on the appropriate action. For instance, if the disease is severe, it advises the user to reach out to the nearest referral hospital.

The beauty of the innovation is that doctors can gauge the severity of the disease from the point it was first diagnosed by using the information stored in the cloud.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Smart jacket that diagnoses pneumonia faster than a doctor can'. Print Edition | Subscribe