Ugandan student develops handheld ultrasound scan to reduce maternal deaths

By Omondi Julius Odera, Kampala, Uganda

An innovative IT student from Makerere University has developed a hand held scanning device that monitors the conditions of foetus in a bid to reduce maternal deaths.

The device, christened Wekebere, uses a combination of algorithms and data from sensors to analyze and release results as per the condition of the foetus.  According to Stephen Tashobya who is the lead developer in the project, Wekebere has been found to be 95 percent effective when its results are pitted against the Lab tests.

The device, which is the size of a smart phone, is connected to a belt which is worn around the belly by the expectant mother. The device power button is turned on and then the device indicates detection of the belt before the analysis is carried out. If the condition of the foetus is normal, the device will indicate with a green light. If there is any abnormality detected, the device will indicate red with a text notification of abnormal conditions on its screen.

Tashobya noted that because their prototype is still in the preliminary stages, the results acquired is then forwarded to the doctor for further analysis on the disease or cause for abnormal conditions which in most cases has been poor positioning of the foetus and the common diseases like malaria. With more funding, the team of five will be able to scale up the innovation to also detail the specifics of the abnormality involved. “However at this stage, our innovation has been able to alert women especially in the remote areas about their status,” noted Tashobya.

The innovation is currently funded under Makerere Resilient project. The prototype has cost the team about UGX8 million. The team expects to roll it on a massive scale in December 2016 after going through the hurdle of detecting the sex and age of the foetus.  “Currently we are working round the clock to also include the age and sex of the baby as part of what Wekebere can detail in the check up,” added Tashobya.

The breakthrough and commercialization of Wekebere will be a gift to many families in Uganda where ultrasound scans for expectant mothers are not only expensive but also not readily available. Clinics and hospitals offering this service are few and a preserve to a few privileged mostly urban households. Tashobya noted that their technology will be affordable as it will cost five times less than the current fee for ultrasound scans.

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