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Ugandan Engineers Create 'Smart Jacket' That Detects Pneumonia

Jan 23, 2017 07:20 AM EST
Lung xray
Pneumonia accounts for 16 percent of all deaths of children below five years old in 2015.
(Photo : American Cancer Society via Getty Images)

Pneumonia kills hundreds of thousands of children worldwide every year, and diagnosis is a big part of the challenge. A team of Ugandan engineers offers hope against the deadly disease by developing what they call a "smart jacket" that can diagnose pneumonia even faster than a doctor.

According to a report from Medical Xpress, a pair of telecommunications engineering graduates Olivia Koburongo and Brian Turyabagye, along with a team of doctors, developed the innovative kit that they also dubbed the Mama-Ope or Mother's Hope. This kit included the biomedical smart jacket, plus the mobile application that takes care of the diagnosis.

It's a straight-forward piece of technology. Health workers simply have patients wear the jacket, then the sensors will proceed to measure the lungs' sound patterns, 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," Turyabagye explained.

The team's studies revealed that their kit can diagnose pneumonia three times faster than a doctor, who typically uses a stethoscope to listen for respiratory distress. The smart jacket also reduces the likelihood of human error as medics can also attribute abnormalities in the lungs to other conditions such as malaria or tuberculosis.

Koburongo added, "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."

The engineer came up with the idea for the wearable when her grandmother had to be trasferred to different hospitals before being properly diagnosed with pneumonia.

Now, the team is working on patenting the kit as well as piloting it in Uganda's referral hospitals.

And not a moment sooner. According to the fact sheet from the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia accounts for 16 percent of all deaths of children below five years old in 2015. In that year, over 900,000 children died of the disease.

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