This week’s TECHtonics feature was written by VOA reporter Matthew Hilburn.
Canadian researchers are developing a device that could allow mobile phones to be used to measure the oxygen content in the blood, a vital sign useful for diagnosing a variety of ailments, including some that threaten the lives of women and children.
Roughly 6,000 women die every year from pre-eclampsia, which occurs during pregnancy and is related to high blood pressure. The Phone Oximeter could save the lives of thousands of pregnant women in the developing world who have life-threatening high blood pressure during their pregnancy.
The device could also be used to detect pneumonia at an early stage. Pneumonia is the number one killer of children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.
The device measures the oxygen levels in the blood by shining a bright light through a patient’s fingertip. Oximeters are commonly used during the administration of anesthesia to ensure a patient is getting enough oxygen. The mobile device is a downloadable smartphone application and two LED lights, a clip and a power cord which can be plugged into a smartphone’s headphone jack.
According to a co-developer of the Phone Oximeter, Mark Ansermino, it can be used by anyone who is literate after about five minutes of training.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to make it intuitive,” said Ansermino, who is an Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics, at the University of British Columbia in Canada “In many of these countries there aren’t enough physicians, so we’re targeting community health workers.”
Ansermino says the device alone can not make an accurate prediction about whether a pregnant woman will develop life-threatening complications from high blood pressure, but that when taken with other symptoms, the device can increase the number of accurate diagnoses by 23 percent.
Currently, the Phone Oximeter would probably cost about $30 to $40, said Ansermino, adding that the price would likely fall if produced on a larger scale.
Later this year, a randomized trial of some 80,000 women will be conducted in Mozambique, Nigeria, India and Pakistan, said Ansermino.