By Kim Walter
Children age 5 and under going to Winchester Medical Center's Pediatric Clinic can now be a part of research that could improve rates of pneumonia diagnosis in developing countries.
Judith Moore, Project HOPE's senior technical adviser for women's and children's health, explained that the organization recently began working with Guardit, a product development company specializing in smart object sensors.
"We at Project HOPE thought that if you can have these motion sensors, why not invent a sensor that can accurately detect breaths," she said Wednesday. "Well, they developed a device that did just that."
Moore said the need for such a device is long overdue, but the reasoning behind it may seem trivial.
Pneumonia is the No. 1 killer of children under 5 in the developing world. More than 1 million children died from it last year. Moore said there are a number of contributing factors like access to health care and birth circumstances, but one thing that surprises people is the rate of how many children are improperly diagnosed or not diagnosed because of the detection method.
"There are a number of developing countries and communities that use what are essentially volunteers to run clinics and things like that," she said. "Unfortunately, some of these community health workers have either a very low level of literacy or very basic training, and it's resulting in errors, which of course affects the children."
Normally, children under 5 are screened for pneumonia in developing countries by counting how many times they breathe per minute. Many communities use simple stopwatches to help keep track. Moore said if a child's breathing rate is elevated, they will carry on with an investigation.
However, some community volunteers can't count at the rate that they need to in order to get accurate data. She said some were found to be recording 60 breathes per minute per child, because they were getting distracted by the ticking sound that a stopwatch makes.
The new device, INSPIRE, is pretty simple. It is put on a child's chest, right against the skin, and records the respiratory rate for a given minute. To further avoid errors, a chip in the device stores the data, which can be transferred to an external device.
To guarantee its accuracy and effectiveness, the product is now being tested in the United States on both healthy and sick children under the age of 5. Moore said because of the long-standing connections between Project HOPE and Valley Health, she reached out to the medical center to see if they could help in collecting data.
Jennifer Stanford, RN and Valley Health's director of clinical research, said the testing began earlier this week. The goal is to use the device on 50 children.
"There really isn't any funding associated with the project at this point, so we're kind of just fitting in the research when we can," she said. "But so far everyone at Valley Health has been supportive of the project ... it's for a good cause."
Stanford, who has been a nurse for about 20 years, said she had a hard time understanding the need for such a device. However, once she learned more about Project HOPE and the kinds of circumstances that some communities and children face around the world, it seemed to make more sense.
"The thing is, here in the U.S. we wouldn't just use a respiratory test to diagnosis pneumonia," she said. "We have other factors to check on, other screenings ... it's just one piece of the puzzle."
However, she said if a health volunteer couldn't count correctly, then that could be the one step in the process that keeps a child from getting the necessary treatment. On the flipside, a child could be misdiagnosed and receive medicine that is costly.
"This has been a really interesting project to be involved in," she said. "We kind of take for granted that pneumonia isn't as much of a threat here."
Moore said she hopes to keep the price of INSPIRE below $20 per device.
"We don't want a cheap product, of course ... part of the testing will tell us what we need to fix in terms of durability," she said. "It has to stand up to the conditions of wherever it's used."
She said the final product would also include a rechargeable battery.
Certain governments and civic organizations currently purchase and back the primitive stopwatch method. Moore is hoping that if the results of the study are promising, those same groups will see the value in new technology.
Stanford said she's hoping to get Project HOPE enough data by the end of the month, so their findings can be presented and testing can take place at a larger venue.
Moore said what's taking place at Winchester Medical Center is just the first step on getting an idea of how this potentially life-saving device could work in parts of the world that need it.
"Pneumonia can be quite frustrating in that context, because we have the treatment that works," she said. "We've just got to be able to properly identify it."
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org