Ugandan Graduate Brian Turyabagye Designs a Biomedical Smart Jacket That Will Tackle Misdiagnosis of Pneumonia

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After Brian watched his grandmother suffer with pneumonia, he began researching methodologies for diagnosing the disease [pneumonia] and its treatments. During his research, he discovered that the illness affects far more children than it does in adults.

Reports according to UNICEF show that, pneumonia kills half a million children under five in sub-Saharan Africa every year, with the region accounting for half of all global deaths from pneumonia of children under five.

“Many of those deaths are because of misdiagnosis,” says Brian.

“In the villages and remote areas, children get sick – and the first reaction is to treat them for malaria. Most people are aware of malaria, and the signs for malaria and pneumonia are very similar, so it is difficult for health professionals to differentiate,” he adds.

Even when a correct diagnosis is made, treatment is often unavailable. According to the Uganda Paediatrics Association (UPA), fewer than 20% of children with pneumonia receive antibiotics, which cost less than a dollar.

So Brian began designing a biomedical smart jacket; he named “Mamaope“, or “Mother’s Hope” – a reference to the 27,000 children who die of pneumonia in Uganda every year, that would distinguish pneumonia’s symptoms – temperature, breathing rate and sound of the lungs – and eliminate most human error, diagnosing pneumonia at a rate three to four times faster than a doctor.

Brian Turyabagye and his team have developed a biomedical kit for early diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients. Photographs by Brett Eloff for the Royal Academy of Engineering Photograph: Brett Eloff/The Royal Academy of Engineering
Brian Turyabagye and his team have developed a biomedical kit for early diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients. Photographs by Brett Eloff for the Royal Academy of Engineering Photograph: Brett Eloff/The Royal Academy of Engineering

“We focused on the distinguishing signs of pneumonia,” says Brian. “One of the processes that most doctors use is a stethoscope to the check the lungs. But [pneumonia] tends to be on side points around the body, not just in the chest or back. Its accuracy of being able to diagnose what is healthy, and what is not, is very encouraging.”

Currently a prototype of the Mamaope jacket will undergo an official national medical examination within this month. Certification for use in health centers and hospitals is expected by spring.

The jacket could be a major boon to diagnosing, treating and preventing pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Although sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of pneumonia deaths among children under five worldwide, funding for pneumonia prevention, management and treatment in the region remains low,” according to Mark Young, senior health specialist for UNICEF.

The Mamaope Jacket was shortlisted for this year’s £25,000 Africa prize for engineering innovation.

source: The Guardian and UNICEF

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