Solar-Powered Oxygen Systems
As of November 2022, the World Bank recorded that close to 70% of  Somalia’s population lives in poverty and 90% suffer from multidimensional impoverishment. Among many other basic necessities, many cannot afford health care services that prevent or cure fatal diseases, such as pneumonia. Solar-powered oxygen systems in Somalia provide an innovative solution to address pneumonia and prevent pneumonia-related deaths in Somalia. However, before early 2021, health facilities in Somalia struggled to provide patients with critical oxygen.

Pneumonia in Somalia

Many diseases plague Somalia due to widespread poverty and a lack of access to health care, nutritious food, clean water and safe sanitation. In 2019, lower respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, stood as the number one disease contributing to the highest number of deaths in Somalia. Somalia has one of the world’s highest rates of child mortality and pneumonia accounts for 25% of these deaths.

Pneumonia is a severe respiratory disease impacting the lungs. Caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi, pneumonia leads to breathing difficulties. A person with pneumonia experiences pain while breathing and cannot breathe in enough oxygen. “Pneumonia is the single largest infectious cause of death in children worldwide,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, parents can prevent pneumonia in children through vaccinations to protect against “Hib, pneumococcus, measles and whooping cough (pertussis),” the WHO highlights. To ensure the effectiveness of immunization, adequate nutrition is essential. Because Somalia is one of the poorest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Somali children suffer from malnutrition and undernutrition, which puts them at risk of weakened immune systems that could make them more susceptible to acquiring pneumonia.

Apart from the importance of adequate nutrition, oxygen is needed in large quantities as a therapy to combat pneumonia. Somalia lacks oxygen systems, tanks and other essential equipment, which makes the treatment of pneumonia and pneumonia-related diseases difficult. The need for oxygen systems in the country became more apparent and urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic as many people needed these to survive.

Poor parents in Somalia struggle to access health care services for their children because of financial constraints, putting timely health care treatment out of reach. Another issue impacting health care facilities is a lack of electricity to operate essential equipment and oxygen concentrators. The introduction of solar-powered oxygen tanks in Somalia resolves this issue.

Solar-Powered Oxygen Systems

A collaboration between the WHO, the innovative nonprofit Grand Challenges Canada (GCC) and a team from the University of Alberta gave rise to an innovation that has so far saved many from pneumonia-related deaths in Somalia.

Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, a WHO Somalia representative, said in an interview with VOA News, “pneumonia is the deadliest disease among children under the age of five in the country. Until now, health authorities had not had access to an intervention that could reduce deaths from childhood pneumonia.”

The partners installed the solar-powered oxygen system, “the first of its kind,” in January 2021 at the Hanaano General Hospital in Dusamareb, Somalia. By harnessing the sun, which is a cost-free resource, the systems capture enough solar energy to use during the day, at night and at times when the weather is not sunny, like on cloudy days.

The solar-powered oxygen system provided critical oxygen to 171 patients at the hospital from February 2021 to October 2021. Of these patients, 163 patients (95.3%) made full recoveries.

The innovative and life-saving solar-powered oxygen systems in Somalia have reduced the cost of treatment for pneumonia and pneumonia-related diseases and can operate without an electricity supply. This medical innovation has the potential to significantly reduce the mortality rate in the country.

– Oluwagbohunmi Bajela
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in the Philippines
In 2020, the Department of Social Welfare and Development held a lecture on immunization and free pneumonia immunization. This is significant in a country with 18.2% of its citizens experiencing elderly poverty in the Philippines and unable to meet food needs. According to a study by the Tsao Foundation, more availability to community resources like vaccination drives could lead to a higher quality of life among the Filipino elderly.

The Lecture on Immunization and Free Pneumonia Immunization

In 2018, 16.6% of the Philippine population lived under the national poverty line, affirming the need for aid for elderly poverty in the Philippines. The lecture occurred in February 2020, some months before the World Bank predicted that elderly poverty in the Philippines would increase during the COVID-19 pandemic in August 2020. Furthermore, in December 2020, an economist from the World Bank predicted that 2.7 million more people would become poor as a result of job losses and slower cash remittances due to the pandemic, or about 2% of the Philippines population.

The event makes vaccine information readily available to elderly citizens as Calabarzon, the location of the vaccine drive, is the number one region in the Philippines to have elderly residents, boasting over 1 million aged people, or 13.3% of the total population. One thousand senior citizens attended from 16 municipalities and seven cities of Cavite province in Calabarzon. This event is proactive and timely in light of the 57,809 lives lost in 2016 to pneumonia, almost 10% of total deaths according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.

A 2016 initiative, the Expanded Pneumococcal Immunization Program for Senior Citizens, supports the event. It makes free pneumococcal vaccines available, mobilizes to reduce pneumonia among the elderly and encourages the public to obtain vaccinations. In particular, the program aims to protect Filipinos from the ages of 60-65.

Cavite Gov. Jonvic Joins Battle Against Vaccine Hesitancy

Although pneumonia is a vaccine-preventable disease, many Filipinos are still reluctant to receive vaccinations. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one of the top 10 global health threats in 2019 was the refusal to vaccinate. Despite the availability of vaccines, hospitals did not vaccinate Filipinos due to hesitancy and the belief that vaccines are harmful. Elderly Filipinos are at particularly high risk because of compromised immune systems that cannot fend off the virus as easily.

The 2020 lecture, with the governor of Cavite Juanito Victor “Jonvic” Remulla in attendance and the Department of Health assisting in its management, not only informed Filipino senior citizens of the life-saving benefits of exercising and eating healthy together with being vaccinated but also coordinated a ceremony in full with free vaccinations. The event made use of the catchphrase “Bakuna Muna: Dahil ang Bakunado, Protektado:” Vaccine First: Because of the Vaccine, (We Are) Protected.

The Philippines is Among the Slowest Aging Asian Countries

Most East Asian and Pacific countries are rapidly aging. In fact, more than 15% of the population in those countries is a senior citizen. The Philippines is among one of the two East Asian countries slowest to age. While estimates have determined that Vietnam will need 15 years for the older population to outpace younger citizens, the Philippines will require 30 years for the number of senior citizens to catch up.

Compared to Western countries, which will take 20 years for the number of aged citizens to increase 5.4% by 2030, predictions have determined that the most upcoming spike in the number of aged people in 15 years will be less than 4%. This is a rate of 0.0026 of the country’s citizens per year in the Philippines, less even than the United States’ 0.0027 per year.

With health care costs totaling up to $20 trillion total, the Philippines likely has more time to settle its finances and organize elderly support policies than most countries. More than in other Asian countries, elderly poverty in the Philippines has a window and leeway for more developed countries to provide aid.

Other Policies Aiding Elderly Poverty

Policies currently in place supporting elderly poverty in the Philippines include the Health and Wellness Plan for Senior Citizens (HWPSC), the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2003 and the Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2010. The HWPSC has the responsibility of reaching out to both national and local governments to provide logistical help and to assist program implementation. It also promises elderly citizens the care and attention they need to help them flourish and receive treatment.

The 2010 Expanded Senior Citizens (Republic Act 9994) Act is an amendment to a former health policy that aims to provide discounted pharmaceuticals and vaccines to senior citizens who cannot afford medical treatments. The Expanded Senior Citizens Act of 2002 (Republic Act 9257), like the Expanded Senior Citizens Act, is an amendment to the same policy guaranteeing additional benefits such as a 20% discount on medical and dental services.

The Philippines is soon to have a 2 million increase in people suffering from poverty. Organizations like the Department of Social Welfare and Development and initiatives like the Health and Wellness Plan for Senior Citizens support these people by providing health aid to combat elderly poverty in the Philippines. Though the pandemic’s impact persists, the government is mobilizing services to improve conditions for the Philippines’ older people.

– Alyssa Ranola
Photo: Pexels

Child Pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa 
Pneumonia is the greatest cause of death for children globally. About 16% of deaths among children under 5 relate to this deadly condition. Every year, 500,000 cases of child pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa occur within this age group. Many of these fatalities occur due to incorrect or delayed diagnoses. Brian Turyabagye, a Ugandan inventor, has created a solution for these inconsistencies; enter  “MamaOpe,” a biomedical smart jacket.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a type of respiratory disease that primarily affects the lungs. Within the lungs are small sacks called alveoli, which fill with air when one is healthy. However, when a person is sick with pneumonia, pus and fluid convolute the alveoli, making it very difficult to breathe. Minor side effects include chest pain, incessant coughing and fever.

Child Pneumonia in Sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the tragic death rates due to pneumonia, medical professionals often misdiagnose it as malaria. Particularly in remote areas, malaria is also common and has similar symptoms to pneumonia. Many times, medical professionals do not discover the pneumonia prognosis until after a child has died. Furthermore, many communities in sub-Saharan Africa lack the proper equipment and medicine to adequately provide treatment. Although pneumonia is the most dangerous disease among children, it receives very low funding. According to UNICEF, “for every global health dollar spent in 2011, only [two] cents went to pneumonia.”

Solution: MamaOpe

Ugandan inventor Turyabagye created a biomedical smart jacket that increases the speed and accuracy of detecting pneumonia. “MamaOpe” means ‘mother’s hope’; the device received the name to honor the 27,000 Ugandan children who die of pneumonia each year. Through the utilization of this jacket, treatment can begin before the patient is too far gone. While Turyabagye invented this jacket, MamaOpe Medicals, of which Turyabagye is a co-founder, represents it. This organization continues to research and create digital solutions for respiratory diseases.

How Does it Work?

The child wears the jacket and a health care worker operates the corresponding controller unit. All it takes is the simple push of a button, and within three minutes, the results display. The device can detect signs unique to pneumonia, such as rate of breath, the sound of lungs and temperature. This technology avoids human error and provides an accurate diagnosis three to four times faster than a medical professional. Eventually, the goal is to program the jacket to work long distance. With this added feature, the patient does not need to travel to a doctor’s office and doctors can monitor the results from a distance.

The Effects

Currently, most major hospitals in Uganda have implemented this jacket. Moreover, expectations determine that the jacket will help at least 50,000 pneumonia patients each year. This invention eventually won first prize at Pitch@Palace Africa in 2017. Moreover, CNN ranked it as one of the top 12 African innovations that could change the world. Ultimately, while pneumonia is a complex disease, MamaOpe is an effective start for lowering rates of child pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa.

 – Ella Kaplun
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Poverty in the PhilippinesThe Philippines is a country in the Pacific Ocean that is made up of over 7,000 small islands. The Philippines struggles with issues of global poverty, healthcare and education. However, progress has been made in recent years to combat these issues and ensure that every Filipino citizen is able to live a healthy and happy life.

7 Facts About Poverty in the Philippines

  1. Data indicates that 16.6% of the population of the Philippines, or about 17.6 million people, live under the poverty line. Those who reside in rural areas have a much higher chance of experiencing poverty, with nearly one-third of those under the poverty line working as farmers.

  2. The Philippines is exposed to more natural disasters than any other nation in the world. These disasters, which include typhoons, earthquakes and cyclones, cause horrific devastation and contribute heavily to the high poverty rate in this country. Other causes of poverty in the Philippines include low job creation, low economic growth and high levels of population growth.

  3. For every 1,000 babies born in the Philippines, 28 die before they turn 5 years old. Many of these children die of pneumonia. The Philippines is one of the 15 countries that make up over 75% of the pneumonia deaths globally. A lower socioeconomic status, which often leads to limited access to vaccinations and healthcare options, contributes to this high rate of pneumonia.

  4. As of 2019, an estimated 64% of Filipino households struggle with food insecurity, and two in every 10 children under the age of 5 are underweight. The high rates of natural disasters and large numbers of people living in rural areas contribute to this hunger problem and make food inaccessible for many in the Philippines.

  5. The COVID-19 crisis has affected all aspects of life in the Philippines but especially food access. A study done in May of 2020 showed that 4.2 million families reported struggling with involuntary hunger, doubling since December 2019. This is likely due to the economic devastation and financial issues that many countries around the world have struggled with since the pandemic.

  6. The Filipino Government has launched its Philippines Development Plan in an effort to combat poverty and hunger and ramp up job creation in the country. This plan was initiated in 2011 and updated in 2017 and has reported remarkable success in job creation, education and poverty reduction.

  7. Various Filipino NGOs as well as some from outside of the country, have worked to combat poverty in the Philippines. A group called Zero Extreme Poverty PH 2030 (ZEP) has led the charge, dedicating itself to eliminating poverty in the nation by 2030 by enacting positive change in eight areas: education, environment, health, housing and shelter, livelihoods, peace and human security and social justice. In 2018, ZEP created a coalition of various NGOs from both the Philippines and around the world, with the goal of helping those living under the poverty line in the country.

Poverty Progress in the Philippines

While the Philippines still struggles with extreme poverty, especially in rural areas, progress is being made to combat the issues that this country is facing. These seven facts about poverty in the Philippines illuminate both the strides that are being made and the further steps that must be taken to improve the lives of Filipino people struggling with poverty and hunger.

– Daryn Lenahan
Photo: Flickr

Childhood Pneumonia
One of the most common diseases globally, pneumonia can be a silent killer when it infects children under 5. In the developing world, rates of childhood pneumonia cases and deaths are still high despite decreasing in other childhood diseases. However, due to new research and outreach programs to aid developing countries, those numbers may soon fall.

10 Facts About Childhood Pneumonia

  1. Various sources cause the disease. Unlike many other diseases that come from a single source, pneumonia is the name for the lungs’ acute response to an airborne pathogen. While pneumonia can develop from bacteria, viruses or fungi, the most common cause for children is the bacteria S. pneumoniae. The bacteria typically live in the lungs without harming the body, but the body develops pneumonia to kill the bacteria when it begins to spread.
  2. Childhood pneumonia mainly infects children under the age of 5. While people of all ages can develop pneumonia, children under the age of 5 are especially susceptible to the infection. Since their immune systems are not fully developed, their bodies are more likely to trigger a response to a foreign agent’s presence in the respiratory system, leading to pneumonia. These infection rates only increase in developing countries, where children are more likely to be born either malnourished or with a disease that they acquired in utero such as HIV.
  3. Pneumonia is a leading cause of death in children. Although pneumonia is often easy to treat and cure in developed countries, it can be fatal in developing countries. According to the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), childhood pneumonia kills over 800,000 children each year in comparison to 437,000 from diarrhea and 272,000 from malaria. These deaths are typically in children who are malnourished or have other conditions such as HIV that impair the immune system.
  4. South Asia has the greatest incidence of childhood pneumonia. Out of every 100,000 children in South Asia, approximately 25,000 will develop pneumonia each year. However, the majority of these cases — approximately 36% — occur in India. Studies looking into the potential causes for the increased number of cases have found that overcrowding in housing with inadequate ventilation allowed the disease to spread among families. Without effective airflow, children in those households continue to breathe in potentially infected air, increasing their chances of developing pneumonia.
  5. Air pollution increases pneumonia rates. Although a child needs to have exposure to the biological cause of pneumonia to develop the disease, certain environmental factors can increase infection likelihood. In India, a country with one of the worst-rated air qualities in the world, particles of smoke and other forms of pollution in the air weaken lungs when inhaled, making it more likely for a young child to develop pneumonia. These conditions of outdoor air pollution causes approximately 17.5% of all pneumonia deaths in the developing world.
  6. The disease is treatable. With antibiotics or antifungals (depending on the cause), children with pneumonia can recover from the disease. However, this treatment is dependent on the resources available in the country where the child lives. In developing countries such as Nigeria — the African country with the highest pneumonia rates in children — only one in three children with pneumonia symptoms can receive treatment due to the lack of available medicines and other medical resources.
  7. Some are producing vaccines. Although vaccines cannot treat viral pneumonia, they are still an important asset in preventing it. However, most of the produced vaccines are only available in developed countries where doctors recommend them for children under 5. In developing countries, nearly 10 million children are unvaccinated. Through the World Health Organization (WHO), many countries have received vaccines, although there has been great variation between regions of the world. While WHO’s South-East Asian Region has 89% coverage, its Western Pacific region only has 24% coverage.
  8. Less progress has occurred regarding childhood pneumonia. While research on pneumonia as a whole has increased over the past decade, there has been much less progress on childhood pneumonia in comparison to other childhood diseases. Since 2000, deaths for those under 5 from pneumonia have decreased by 54%, while deaths from diarrhea have decreased by 64% and are currently half the number of childhood pneumonia deaths.
  9. Large organizations are helping. Among other large, international organizations, the Gates Foundation has taken efforts to reduce childhood pneumonia rates in developing countries. One of its main methods is the continued distribution of vaccines to children and families in South Asian and Sub-Saharan Africa, specifically India and Nigeria. So far, the organization has sent vaccines to over 37 countries in those regions of the world, slowing transmission and infection rates in those areas.
  10. Rates will continue to drop in the future. Although the number of childhood pneumonia cases each year have not dropped as much as other diseases, long-term progress is still ongoing. If the current level of progress toward eradicating the disease continues, UNICEF predicts that it will save 5.9 million children. At the same time, if resources towards the effort increase, that number will increase to nearly 10 million.

UNICEF and WHO do not expect to meet their goal of eradicating childhood pneumonia until 2030. However, the progress they and many others are currently initiating is making a difference. Soon, pneumonia will become an extinct disease in the developing world so that it will never harm another child.

Sarah Licht
Photo: Flickr

Access to Oxygen
Many often take oxygen for granted but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become a valuable and sometimes scarce resource. Coronavirus heavily affects the respiratory system; access to oxygen is crucial for doctors to effectively treat their patients. However, medical oxygen tanks often rely on electricity to function. In regions without stable access to power, this can be a dangerous system.

The FREO2 LPOS System

The Fully Renewable Energy Oxygen Foundation, or FREO2 for short, is an Australia-based health technology research group. It developed a suite of technology innovations that can store and dispense medical oxygen without using electricity. FREO2’s work includes the creation, development and deployment of innovative health technologies to underserved hospitals around the world.

FREO2 began developing its oxygen system in 2011. It was spurred by the dire effects that unreliable access to medical oxygen has on children suffering from pneumonia. Pneumonia is the greatest threat to children’s lives in the world, despite the proven effectiveness of medical oxygen as treatment. With the support of the Ugandan government, FREO2’s medical experts and engineers found a solution: they harnessed the power of water.

How Does the FREO2 LPOS System Work?

The FREO2 Low-Pressure Oxygen Store (LPOS) system uses an oxygen concentrator machine to remove most nitrogen from the surrounding air, leaving nearly pure oxygen which is then stored in a large bag. If the hospital experiences a power outage, the LPOS system uses gravity-powered water from above to push oxygen through its pipes at the correct height to ensure the appropriate amount of pressure for the patient. The LPOS system can provide electricity-free medical oxygen for 8 to 10 hours, allowing under-resourced hospitals to treat their patients more effectively.

At the Mbarara Hospital in southeastern Uganda, doctors struggled to provide uninterrupted access to oxygen to children afflicted with pneumonia and other respiratory infections because of unreliable electricity. FREO2 first used the LPOS system on a six-month-old patient in July 2018 at the Mbarara Hospital in Uganda. FREO2’s LPOS system was crucial to treating his pneumonia and his successful recovery.

Inequality in Access to Oxygen

Innovations such as the FREO2 LPOS system have the capability to save lives in remote regions during the coronavirus pandemic. Unequal access to oxygen is an indicator of stark health inequalities between and within countries. Although medical oxygen has been recognized as essential for decades, there are still many health centers without stable access to it.

After its initial success in 2018, FREO2 plans to dispense the LPOS system at scale to 30,000 clinics in regions across Africa and Southeast Asia where the risk of pneumonia is great. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgency of this issue. To aid health centers during the pandemic, FREO2 has donated eight LPOS systems to rural hospitals in Uganda.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, unequal access to oxygen can be a matter of life or death. The ingenious work of organizations like FREO2 is central in the current global health crisis and beyond. Innovations like the LPOS system have the power to narrow the gap in healthcare access across the world. FREO2’s work could mitigate the effects of health crises at underserved health centers in the future.

Leina Gabra
Photo: Flickr

MamaOpe smart jacketIn 2014, Olivia Koburongo lost her grandmother to pneumonia after she was misdiagnosed with malaria by doctors in Uganda. In response to this tragic misdiagnosis, Koburongo and Brian Turyabagye decided to put their engineering skills to the test and solve the problem of pneumonia misdiagnosis and slow diagnoses, a problem which is common in many African countries. With the help of Dr. Cosmas Mwikirize, a professor at Makerere University, they designed the MamaOpe smart jacket, a “biomedical application for early diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients,” according to the company’s website.

Effects of Slow Diagnoses and Misdiagnoses of Pneumonia

Studies show that patients are often wrongfully diagnosed with malaria. Over-diagnosis of malaria means that other life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia, are not treated. Misdiagnoses end up contributing to the death rate associated with other ailments, including pneumonia. Children, in particular, are adversely affected as pneumonia accounts for 15% of deaths among children under the age of five. Every year, one million children under the age of five die from pneumonia. Pneumonia causes more deaths than malaria, diarrhea and HIV/AIDs combined. In 2015, more than 490,000 children died from pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2001 and 2016, childhood pneumonia deaths had fallen by only 50% relative to an 85% decrease in childhood deaths due to measles and a 60% decrease in childhood deaths due to malaria, tetanus and AIDS. According to UNICEF, slow or limited progress in the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia is associated with poor funding for preventative care and treatment management. In 2011, for every dollar spent on global health, just two cents went toward pneumonia.

MamaOpe Provides a Solution

The MamaOpe smart jacket, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering in 2017, is designed specifically for children from the ages of zero to five who are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia. “Mama” is shorthand for “Mother,” and “Ope” means “Hope.” MamaOpe thus signifies “Hope for the Mother.” It is also a reference to the 27,000 children in Uganda who die of pneumonia annually.

In order to monitor patients’ chests and heartrates, listen to their lungs and check their breathing rates and temperatures, MamaOpe utilizes a stethoscope, which is embedded in a jacket that patients wear. The jacket covers the patients’ entire chests and sides. It is made from polymer, a material selected to reduce the risk of spreading infection when the jacket is shared among patients.

The jacket itself is connected to an android application on a mobile device via Bluetooth. The technology helps eliminate human error. According to the company, measurements made by the device assist doctors in diagnosing pneumonia three to four times faster than when doctors use a normal stethoscope. MamaOpe displays the results after three minutes of tracking a patient’s vitals.

Hope for the Future

The MamaOpe smart jacket is still in its prototype and testing phase but reports suggest that the company plans to bring the product to market in 2021. The current cost of the jacket is $60 and the price will likely decrease when full-scale manufacturing begins and the jacket tests successfully in Uganda.

As MamaOpe strives to prevent cases of pneumonia misdiagnosis and decrease the child death rate associated with pneumonia, the company is proving just how important innovation can be in combatting deadly illnesses. If governments ramp up support for pneumonia prevention, management and treatment, the lives of hundreds of thousands of children can be saved annually.

–  Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr