MamaOpe: Child Pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa 

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