African Press Association
Heart disease

EXCLUSIVE: Cameroon invention addresses heart scourge

Heart disease

Heart disease

from NGALA Killian CHIMTOM in Yaounde, Cameroon 
YAOUNDE (APA)– MILLIONS of Cameroonians at risk of heart disease are set to be saved and the health sector transformed with the establishment of a production unit of a locally-developed, globally-recognised invention.

Arthur Zang, the 26-year old inventor of the Cardiopad, a patented touchscreen innovation, has initiated plans to construct a facility to produce the device.

If plans come to fruition, Cameroon’s rural population, who have borne the biggest brunt of prevalent high blood pressure, will mostly benefit.

The Cardiopad, a touch screen medical tablet that enables heart examinations such as the electrocardiogram (ECG) to be performed at remote, rural locations while the results of the test are transferred wirelessly to specialists who can interpret them, thus eliminating the need for rural dwellers to travel to the main cities of Yaoundé and Douala where specialists can only be found.

The device spares African patients living in remote areas the trouble of having to travel to urban centers to seek medical examinations.

At least CFA 100 million (US$173 426) is required to construct the facility to produce the Cardio pad, which gained global fame when it won the 2014 Rolex Prize that came along with over $ D55 000 reward as well as the Young Innovators Presidential Prize.

Forbes hailed it as “African innovation at its finest.”

“I will use the money (Rolex 2014 prize) to produce 100 kits; ten for each region,” he told CAJ News Africa.

The complete diagnostic kit costs CFA 2 million.

“This may sound costly for ordinary Cameroonians, but when you compare with other devices doing the same job, it is really, really cheap, because it is half the price of the other devices doing the same job,” said Zang.

For now, the kits are still imported from China, but Zanglooks forward to building a firm to produce the equipment right back in Cameroon, hoping this will lower the cost for poor families struggling with their bills.

The bigger objective is to construct as a production unit for the invention.

If initial responses are anything to go by, the plans will soon come to fruition.

Cameroon President, Paul Biya, has endorsed the plans, leading by example through a donation of CFA 20 million.

Part of the money to build a production unit will to be covered by the sale some 300 Cardiopads, which have been exported to countries like Gabon and far afield as India and Nepal.

When Zang began designing the Cardiopad in 2012 however, financing was difficult.

The banks were reluctant to lend to a student without collateral.

With the advent of technology, he has gone for a 21st century solution.

“I have proceeded to using social media,” the inventor said.

He recorded the video of the prototype in the laboratory and posted it on YouTube and Facebook.

The media picked on the project and coverage soared.

“That is how the President (Biya) got wind of the project and supported it,” said Biya.

Professor Samuel Kingue, who mentored Zang as a student, describes the Cardiopad as a break-through in science.

The cardiologist believes the Cardio pad has the potential of scaling down the prevalence of heart diseases in Cameroon.

According to the central African country’s Society of Cardiologists, some 30 per cent of Cameroon’s 22 million people suffer from high blood pressure, which is one of the key contributing factors to heart disease.

“Yet there are fewer than 50 heart specialists, most of who are based in the cities of Douala and Yaounde, leaving rural areas with virtually no cardiac care,” said Kingue.

Heart patients have always mostly had to brave rugged roads to the cities in search of treatment.

Andre Zoa, a heart patient in the remote Ntui area narrates the story of how he almost lost his life as he engaged the bumpy 65 kilometre road on his way to the hospital in Yaoundé.

His heart was failing, and the journey involved riding down the bumpy roads.

“The trip was unavoidable,” said Zoa.

He can count himself lucky. On some occasions, patients must make appointments months in advance, and some even die in the process of waiting for their appointment.

Zanga’s innovation is changing all that.

“When a patient arrives in a rural hospital where there is no cardiologist, the nurse attaches electrodes and a sensor to the chest of the patient. These accessories then transmit the health information of the patient to the cardio Pad via Bluetooth,” he said.

The reliability of the pad device is as high as 97,5percent.

The health-care worker who takes this reading then transmits this information to a national data centre, using the Cardiopad’s mobile connectivity. Once the ECG is received, a cardiologist makes a diagnosis and sends it back to the centre to be relayed to the healthcare worker treating the patient, along with prescription instructions.

The idea of the Cardiopad came as a student’s research topic back in 2007.

“I was curious on how to use my knowledge in computer science to develop software in the medical field,” Zang said.

That drive took him on visits to hospitals.

On one hospital visit, he was watching a television programme showing an electrocardiogram (ECG) being taken.

“I said to myself, ‘I wonder how that works?’”

The response came from Kingu, based at Yaounde Central Hospital, who taught him about the type of software needed for a portable ECG device and about how to process the data that comes from the signal.

The rest, as they say, is history.

However, personal tragedy, in the form of the death of an uncle, drove the invention of the Cardiopad.

His growth in a poor, rural setting in Mbankomo, a locality some 40 km from Yaoundé, also shaped his world view.

“I know personally the daily existence of people living in the village. I lived there myself. I know how difficult it is to get specialist care.”