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A Jacket Is Revolutionizing the Diagnosis of Pneumonia in Uganda

Called Mama-Ope, or Mother’s Hope, this system was inspired by Koburongo and designed by a colleague named Brian Turyabagye.

Pneumonia is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5. In many parts of the world, the disease often goes undiagnosed or untreated because of misdiagnosis or a lack of antibiotics. However, a new diagnostic tool designed by a team in Uganda is changing the way the disease is being diagnosed and treated, and this device could potentially save lives across the globe.

Traditional Diagnosis

Pneumonia is traditionally diagnosed after a doctor listens to a patient’s lungs with a stethoscope and, if crackling or bubbling sounds are heard, additional tests, such as a chest X-ray or a blood test, are done to confirm the diagnosis.

In some parts of the world, these steps are more than enough to diagnose pneumonia, but in areas where diseases with similar signs and symptoms are often prevalent, pneumonia can be misdiagnosed or even left untreated until it becomes fatal.

The Spark of an Idea

A case of misdiagnosis is what inspired 26-year-old Olivia Koburongo to create a new diagnostic tool for pneumonia that has the potential to be used in developing countries. When Koburongo’s grandmother fell ill in Uganda, she was moved from one medical facility to another, but doctors to determine what was wrong. Eventually, Koburongo’s grandmother was diagnosed with pneumonia; however, because of the series of misdiagnoses, the illness had progressed beyond any possible treatment. Koburongo’s grandmother ultimately passed away because of her untreated infection.

After the loss of her grandmother, Koburongo had an idea: a jacket that would enable healthcare workers to monitor lung sounds and vital statistics to properly diagnose pneumonia.

From Spark to Flame

Called Mama-Ope, or Mother’s Hope, this system was inspired by Koburongo and designed by a colleague named Brian Turyabagye.

By simply placing the jacket on a patient, the sensors in the jacket would detect the patient’s temperature and breathing rate, and pick up sound patterns in the lungs. Data from the jacket could then be uploaded to the cloud and synced to a mobile phone application, giving doctors and healthcare workers all of the tools they would need to properly diagnose a case of pneumonia. With this ability, Mama-Ope has the potential to change the way pneumonia is diagnosed across the world.

Because the data from the jacket’s diagnostics is stored in the cloud, doctors from other regions can access and diagnose patients in Uganda. With this capability, not only will Ugandan patients have access to qualified healthcare professionals from around the world, but these doctors will also have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of individuals they may not normally be able to help.

The ultimate goal is for the Mama-Ope system to be implemented worldwide, with the hopes that it will reduce the incidence of pneumonia-related mortality, worldwide. In a region where pneumonia is the highest cause of child mortality, this new diagnostic tool has the potential to save hundreds or thousands of lives. The jacket and its creators have already been shortlisted for the £25,000 Africa prize for engineering innovation. A prize of that size could help jumpstart production and get the jackets into the hands of healthcare workers who wouldn’t normally have the proper tools to diagnose pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

With the spark of an idea fueled by one granddaughter’s grief, hope may be renewed for those living in regions where a pneumonia infection can potentially be a death sentence.

Kayla Matthews is a health and information technology writer who contributes to publications like Motherboard, insideBIGDATA and SandHill. To read more posts by Kayla, connect with her on her blog Productivity Bytes.