Affordability of diagnostic systems, however, remains the major barrier to universal healthcare. And it has been causing deaths at biblical proportion across the developing world. Researchers of Johns Hopkins University have chilling revelations:
Worldwide, more kids die of pneumonia and other lung ailments than from any other cause. These acute lower respiratory infections kill nearly 1 million children each year worldwide, causing more deaths than HIV and malaria combined. But fewer than 5 percent of people in the developing world have access to the X-ray imaging that’s considered the gold standard for pneumonia diagnoses. What’s more, many sick children never get to a clinic because they live far away from a facility, roads are in poor condition, and transportation is expensive. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most pneumonia deaths occur, only two in five children with pneumonia symptoms receive professional medical care.
Given the global burden of these respiratory ailments, the World Health Organization has developed strategies for countries with limited resources. The guidelines for pneumonia diagnosis minimize dependence on any technological tools, and instead rely solely on observed symptoms of shortness of breath, cough, and rapid breathing. In hopes of saving lives, the WHO recommends antibiotic treatment for all children with these symptoms, with the result that half the children who get treated for pneumonia don’t really have it. This approach puts unnecessary costs on communities, and the unnecessary medication contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The JHU researchers have picked up an “ancient” tool – stethoscope – to deal with this demon. This ubiquitous clinical tool has been hardly changed since its invention in early 1800. With funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, NASA, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – the researchers have completely reengineered the stethoscope.
They have weaponized it with digital sensing technology for sound capture, active acoustics for noise cancellation, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help health workers make accurate pneumonia diagnoses. The prototype has been trialed in Bangladesh, Peru and Malawi with exciting results. Commercial version of this smart stethoscope is expected to hit the shelf early this year. Read full report.