Low-cost medical device detects pneumonia quickly and effectively

This device, called Kulinda, could counteract the devastating effects of pneumonia in developing countries.

It is difficult to diagnose pneumonia in children as it can easily be mistaken for a common cold or flu in its early stages. This error could be fatal. It’s especially difficult to diagnose the infectious disease in developing countries where expertise and technology are not readily available.

UK Product Designer, Stefan Guiton’s Kenyan mother, who is a doctor, provided him with a first-hand account of this problem: “She stressed how inaccurate the method of diagnosis was while she was practicing, as she had to hold babies in her arms and monitor their chest movements alongside a watch to count their respiratory rate."

Guiton’s mother’s memories inspired him to create Kulinda, which means “protect” in Swahili. It’s a medical device which is strapped on a child that records their breaths per minute with a stretch sensor. An indicator light flashes if pneumonia is present or not. This is determined by an algorithm within a microchip inside the device.

While simple in its approach, it removes the risk of human error and makes diagnosis easy, efficient and cost-effective. It also requires very little medical expertise as long as the operator can provide the child’s correct age.

“There is a difference in breathing rate symptoms between a child under 12 months of age, due to their smaller lungs,” says Guiton.

Reaction time saves lives

An early diagnosis can mean the difference between life and death. In June, UNICEF reported that up to 2400 children die per day of pneumonia.

It remains a leading global infectious cause of death among children under five, and it accounted for approximately 16 per cent of the 5.6 million under-five deaths, killing around 880 000 children in 2016. Most of its victims were less than 2 years old.

Earlier this month UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said innovation could be key to decreasing these numbers. Speaking at the opening of the Global Conference on Primary Health Care, she noted the decline in the rate of child mortality below the age of five, which has fallen by almost 60 per cent since 1990.

Child malnutrition rates continue to decline. And science, development and technology have made detecting, treating and even eliminating some diseases a reality,” she said. “Of course, innovation is about researching and developing new medicines, diagnostics and vaccines.”

From prototype to market

It’s clear that there’s a global need for products such as Kulinda. Guiton developed the project in his final year of study at the University of the West of England (UWE).

It has since been recognised by the James Dyson Award, an international design award that celebrates, encourages and inspires the designers who come up with novel problem-solving ideas.

While still in a developmental phase, Kulinda continues to garner interest. In 2018, the project was chosen as a semi-finalist in the Telegraph STEM Awards, a programme that offers undergraduates the chance to showcase their talents to some of the biggest names in the industry.

The Telegraph STEM Awards went on to sponsor Guiton to pitch the prototype to a British pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, at its headquarters in London.

Now, Guiton wants to keep developing and refining his design to get it ready for public release. He believes that like the innovation encouraged by global health organisations such as UNICEF, Kulinda will help detect, tackle and reduce pneumonia deaths around the world.

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