A team from Uganda’s Makerere University is the only African winner in the 2014-2015 Big Ideas Contest for its app that could aid in early detection of pneumonia.
The app, which won Makerere a tie for second place in the global health category of the contest, combines a cell phone prototype with specially developed cell phone applications. This enables it to make a detailed analysis and preliminary diagnosis of “lung crackles” through digitized audio recordings from a patient’s chest.
The team intends to have a connection to a modified stethoscope for better readings of lung sounds and the device will be able to store and send chest recordings as digital files so that they can be expertly analysed at a later point if necessary.
The Big Ideas judges were particularly impressed by the proposal due to the danger pneumonia presents to patients – particularly in the developing world – and due to a high success rate in treatment if detected early.
“The affordability and wide availability of cell phones make them an innovative platform for the development of simple medical diagnosis capabilities for use in the field,” the judges said. “This is especially true in under-developed countries where skilled medical practitioners and their most sophisticated devices are often thin on the ground.”
The team was one of only two international universities to win an award in the completion, which was organised by the University of California (UC) Berkeley. The other international winner was a team from Australia’s Monash University that developed an advanced reading tablet for young children.
The contest aims to encourage students to use skills gained at university outside their courses on passion projects that could better the world. Teams put together initial proposals and Big Ideas helps them turn these into action throughout the course of a year by providing funding, support and encouragement.
Other teams that won awards in the same global health category as Makerere included a UC Davis team that designed a sand-and-plant system for treating wastewater on a large scale (tied first place); a UC Berkeley team that designed a programme to increase training in cervical cancer screening methods (tied first place); and a UC Berkeley team that developed a method for removing fluoride from water that is appropriate to the culture, environment and technology of rural India (tied second place).
All of these ideas have a long road ahead before success implementation on a long scale. But if the student teams stick with their passion they have every chance of creating a start-up that could have a real impact on the lives of people across the globe.