Child Pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa 
Pneumonia is the greatest cause of death for children globally. Nearly 16% of deaths for children under 5-years-old 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 the “Mama-Ope,” 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 it shares similar symptoms to pneumonia. Many times, medical professionals do not discover the pneumonia prognosis until after a child has died. Furthermore, many communities in SSA lack the proper equipment and medicine to adequately provide treatment. Although pneumonia is the most dangerous disease amongst children, it receives very low funding. According to UNICEF, “for every global health dollar spent in 2011, only 2 cents went to pneumonia.”

Solution: Mama-Ope

The Ugandan inventor Brian Turyabagye created a biomedical smart jacket that increases the speed and accuracy of detecting pneumonia. “Mama-Ope” 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, Mama-Ope 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 3 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 have determined that it will help at least 50,000 pneumonia patients each year. This invention eventually won first prize at [email protected] 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, the Mama-Ope is an effective start for lowering rates of child pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa.

 – Ella Kaplun
Photo: Wikipedia Commons


Healthcare in AfricaMany think that underdeveloped countries in Africa will forever be stuck with poor healthcare. Yet, few media outlets show the innovative approaches African countries are taking to address this issue. In reality, Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa are turning to the tech world to build better healthcare in Africa.

Mobile Technology Maps Medicinal Needs

The inefficient infrastructure in Africa puts people’s health at risk. Health clinics, which take some people hours to reach, are not always stocked with the medicine being requested by patients. For this reason, Uganda is utilizing mTRAC to construct a proper supply cycle.

On a weekly basis, healthcare workers report diseases, malaria cases and stock quantities of medicine via SMS. Then volunteer health workers in the Villiage Health Teams (VHTs) monitor the weekly count of malaria cases, severe malnutrition, ACT and amoxicillin stock.

The communities themselves provide the most impressive source of data. The people getting these services have the opportunity to provide feedback on healthcare issues such as the absence of health workers and out-of-stock medication. The data is processed onto a dashboard for the District Health Teams. The information is then filtered to the Ministry of Health in Kampala. Reporting their specific district and health facilities helps biostatisticians identify alerts and make informed decisions on drug redistribution and disease response initiatives.

There is a similar mobile pilot known as mHealth in Kenya. Novartis created mHealth to study medicine supplies for a more efficient distribution system. Pharmacists in Nairobi and Mombasa register patients in an SMS survey. The input creates a map of locations where medicine is needed. These digital technologies go a long way in delivering better healthcare in Africa.

A.I. Diagnostics Save Children

Mobile Apps also improve diagnostic procedures. Birth asphyxia is one of the world’s three leading causes of infant mortality. Annually, around 1.2 million infants die or suffer from disabilities such as cerebral palsy, deafness and paralysis due to perinatal asphyxia.

Ubenwa is a Nigerian A.I. that is programmed to detect asphyxia by analyzing the amplitude and frequency of an infant’s cry. The algorithm has been made available to smartphone users for an instant diagnosis. The availability of this app empowers Nigerian communities that do not have access to or cannot afford clinical alternatives.

Ugandan children between infancy and five years of age can receive an early diagnosis of pneumonia with a biomedical smart vest called Mama-Ope. Because of the similar symptoms of diseases like malaria, asthma or tuberculosis, it is not uncommon for pneumonia to be misdiagnosed. Mama-Ope is designed to avoid such inconsistencies in these diagnostics.

Patients with pneumonia die when the severity of the disease is not recognized. It is vital that viral and bacterial pneumonia are differentiated during diagnosis. Otherwise, the result is an improper, life-threatening prescription of drugs. The smart vest measures all vital signs simultaneously, which reduces diagnostic time. Health workers are also able to use the telemedicine device for tracking and monitoring their patients’ records. With the capability of cloud storage, Mama-Ope can change healthcare in Africa.

3-D Printer Transforms E-waste Into Prosthetic Limbs

In the small country of Togo, wedged between Ghana and Benin, lies the tech hub WoeLabs, famous for using toxic e-waste to create the first 3-D printer in Africa. Electronic waste shipped from Western countries has polluted Africa with digital dumps. The material is burned, leaving behind hazardous gases.

Togo’s neighboring country Ghana holds the largest scrapyard to cushion the globe’s annual 42 megatons of e-waste. WoeLabs in Togo’s capital, Lomé, made a 3-D Printer with Ghana’s digital scrap in one year. To date, WoeLabs has produced 20 printers. This work inspired other labs to change healthcare in Africa. Sudan is now using 3-D printing to make prosthetic limbs, and Not Impossible Labs is also helping amputees through this innovative and unconventional use of technology.

Through mobile systems such as mTRAC in Uganda and mHealth in Kenya, healthcare systems are better able to improve drug redistribution in health centers in need of medical supplies. The smart vest Mama-Ope contributes to healthcare reform by not only by diagnosing patients but also by storing records in the virtual cloud. Finally, the 3-D printers built in Togo ultimately exemplify how these communities of underresourced people can transform a hazardous situation into an opportunity to improve healthcare in Africa.

Crystal Tabares
Photo: Flickr