diagnose birth asphyxiaBirth asphyxia is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. It occurs when a child does not get enough oxygen before, during or after birth. However, an app under development could detect asphyxia in as little as 10 seconds. As such, this app has the potential to diagnose birth asphyxia and save the lives of children.

Causes and Symptoms of Asphyxia

Some causes of perinatal asphyxia include low blood pressure in the mother, placental abruption wherein the placenta separates from the uterus wall and the compression or entanglement of the umbilical cord. Additionally, birth asphyxia can be caused if the uterus does not fully relax. This is because it can impede blood flow to the placenta and thus the child.

As a result, the symptoms of children suffering from asphyxia include a weak or irregular heart rate, weak reflexes, being blue in color, lethargy and/or a soft cry.

This last symptom, a soft cry, is important. It is what Ubenwe, a Nigerian AI company, relies on to diagnose birth asphyxia. Moreover, Ubenwe plans to save children from debilitating illnesses resulting from brain damage caused by asphyxia, like blindness or deafness.

What is Ubenwe?

Ubenwe is a mobile app that uses proprietary AI technology to detect weak crying that can be a sign of asphyxia. In their words, the app can “analyze the amplitude and frequency patterns in the cry to provide a diagnosis of birth asphyxia.”

Ubenwe is an Igbo word that means “cry of a child.” In clinical trials, where the app tested 1,400 recordings of children crying, the app can diagnose birth asphyxia with a 95 percent accuracy rate. By recognizing this key symptom of asphyxia immediately and accurately, Ubenwe can save many lives.

Nigerian student Charles Onu and his research team invented the app at McGill University in Canada. Additionally, Onu is an associate fellow at the Royal Commonwealth Society. He is one of 12 fellows from around the world chosen to take part in the Jeanne Suave’ Leadership Program. This program brings together the world’s brightest young leaders to end global problems.

In 2017, Ubenwe was one of 141 teams from around the world to make it into the X Prize competition. This competition encourages inventors to apply AI technology when solving global problems. Subsequently, Ubenwe began research and development in 2012. In 2014, Ubenwe began pilot testing.

The Importance of Ubenwe

Currently, the main method to diagnose birth asphyxia requires drawing blood from the umbilical cord or the baby. However, this method is not suitable because 60 percent of women worldwide do not give birth in a hospital. Half of all deaths that occur in middle- to low-income nations could be prevented if the afflicted had had access to a hospital. Often, by the time the parents of a child are able to reach a hospital, the harm has already been done.

However, 95 percent of the developing world has a mobile phone. Ultimately, every one of those 95 percent could have access to Ubenwe and potentially diagnose birth asphyxia. With the majority of developing countries having access to mobile phones, they have increasing access to apps with the power to save lives.

– Sarah Bradley
Photo: Flickr