A team of Ugandan graduates from Makerere University have developed the Mamaope – meaning “mother’s hope” – mHealth diagnostic tool kit that can accurately detect pneumonia in children.

The team developed Mamaope as a solution to the lack of resources, such as laboratory testing and infrastructure, available in developing countries to properly diagnose pneumonia, an illness that, according to UNICEF, kills 500,000 children under 5 in sub-Saharan Africa every year.

“Many of those deaths are because of misdiagnosis,” said Telecommunication Engineer and developer of Mamaope, Brian Turyabagye.

Traditionally doctors use a stethoscope to listen for abnormal sounds in the lungs; however such sounds are often misdiagnosed as malaria or TB resulting in valuable time being lost in the patient’s treatment.

“In the villages and remote areas, children get sick and the first reaction is to treat them for malaria. Most people are aware of malaria, and the signs for malaria and pneumonia are very similar, so it is difficult for health professionals to differentiate,” said Turyabagye.

To overcome this issue, Turyabagye and his fellow team members, Computer Engineer, Besufekad Shifferaw; Nurse, Angella Namwase; Telecommunication Engineer, Olivia Koburongo;  Medical Student, Rodney Sekate; and Social Sciences Graduate, Akangumya Viola, created Mamaope.

Mamaope consists of a wearable biomedical smart jacket that can easily be put on a child. The jacket has special sensors that can identify the symptoms of pneumonia: specific sound patterns from the lungs, temperature and breathing rate.

“The processed information is sent to a mobile phone app (via Bluetooth) which analyses the information in comparison to known data so as to get an estimate of the strength of the disease,” said Turyabagye.

“Once you have this information captured on cloud storage, it means a doctor who is not even in the rural area, who is not on the ground, can access the same information from any patient and it helps in making an informed decision,” continued Turyabagye.

According to the developers, the jacket, which is still only a prototype, can diagnose pneumonia up to three times faster than a doctor and reduces human error.

The prototype is currently undergoing an official national medical investigation and it should be certified for use in health centres and hospitals towards the end of 2017.

Mamaope was shortlisted for the £25,000 Africa prize for engineering innovation, which the developers hope could help to jumpstart mass production of the solution for use on the continent.

“Really, we are looking to help the next generation,” said Turyabagye.

“Pneumonia has such a high rate in Uganda and our neighbouring countries; if we were able to distribute in those countries, we could save a lot of people,” concluded Turyabagye.

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