If you were making a list of difficult field diagnoses for deadly diseases, pneumonia would be at or near the top. UNICEF reports that “pneumonia kills half a million children under five in sub-Saharan Africa each year.” According to Dr. Mark Young, UNICEF Senior Health Specialist, “Although sub-Saharan Africa accounts for half of pneumonia deaths among children under five worldwide, funding for pneumonia prevention, management, and treatment in the region remains low.” Misdiagnosis is a major factor in detecting pneumonia because the symptoms are similar to those of malaria, asthma, and tuberculosis. Also, failure to differentiate correctly between viral and bacterial pneumonia can result in increased resistance to treatment if the wrong drugs are prescribed.

A concentrated team effort in Uganda has resulted in Mama-Ope, a wearable vest that is a “biomedical smart jacket” with software. Designed for use by health workers, it helps with early diagnosis and continuous monitoring with children aged 0 to 5. The Mama-Ope kit efficiently measures all vital signs at once, and continuously reads, monitors, and saves patient data. According to UNICEF data, most pneumonia fatalities occur when the severity is unknown. The hope of the Mama-Ope team and partners including the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Rudd Family Foundation, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, and SkyApps Technologies, is to turn around the death toll due to pneumonia of up to 27,000 children in Uganda each year.  The next step is to take the Mama-Ope technology worldwide.

The focus on affordable wearable health tech used in conjunction with mobile software apps produces compelling and useful products and services. Every step forward matters in the pursuit of health and well being, but none so much as those that can help children in under-served parts of the world.