A new innovation from Uganda aims to reduce the often fatal misdiagnosis of pneumonia by providing jackets that identify symptoms unique to the disease.
A Ugandan man named Brian Turyabagye designed the biomedical smart jacket to identify such symptoms of pneumonia as breathing rate, temperature and sound of the lungs and to make a diagnosis three or four times faster than a doctor. The jackets are called “Mamaope,” meaning Mother’s hope, as they aim to provide hope to mothers in Sub-Saharan Africa where pneumonia killed 490,000 children under the age of five last year.
According to Turyabagye, many of these deaths are due to misdiagnosis. He explains that pneumonia is often misdiagnosed as malaria in regions where the latter is prevalent. Since the symptoms of pneumonia and malaria are very similar, Mamaope Jackets will focus on identifying symptoms that can differentiate them and lead to a more accurate diagnosis.
When Turyabagye was an undergraduate student in Uganda he accompanied a friend’s grandmother to the hospital after she became seriously ill. Doctors initially diagnosed and treated her for malaria, only realizing that she was dying of pneumonia when it was too late. This inspired Turyabagye to create a more effective and simple way to diagnose pneumonia.
According to UNICEF, pneumonia kills nearly 1 million children under five each year globally which is more than HIV/AIDS, diarrhea, and malaria combined. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of the pneumonia deaths of children worldwide, and the region lacks critical funding for prevention and treatment.
If mass-produced, the jackets will be distributed to health centers and hospitals where it will be used to more accurately diagnose pneumonia. Mamaope Jackets will focus on symptoms unique to pneumonia, which usually occurs on the sides of the body rather than just the chest or the back. Turyabagye believes that being able to distinguish between what is healthy and what is not is a significant step to preventing misdiagnosis.
If Turyabagya secures funding for mass production, there is hope that the jackets will create awareness and increase funding for pneumonia treatment and care. The jackets have the potential to make waves in the global health community and thus securing funding for the fight against pneumonia globally.
The jacket is currently a prototype, but it is expected to undergo a medical examination this month. If this is successful, the jacket will be certified for medical use this spring. Mamaope Jackets are on the shortlist for this year’s Africa prize for engineering innovation, and if they win Turyabagye hopes to use the £25,000 prize money to begin mass production and distribution.
– Eva Kennedy