Advanced Imaging

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Advanced Imaging Magazine

Updated: January 12th, 2011 09:49 AM CDT

Telemedicine for Chubby-Cheeked Kids

Penn State students combine inspiration and innovation with cost-effective technology to bring healthcare to rural East Africa
Khanjan Mehta, Penn State University
A Kenyan woman uses a spirometer to check her lung capacity. Penn State students made the device from a piece of PVC pipe and a vibration sensor attached to a DAQ card for less than $10. New devices cost $50 and up.
A Penn State student works with a Kenyan family at a Mashavu kiosk. He will log onto the Mashavu server and create (or update) a patient profile, which includes questions on contact information, social history and medical history.
A woman gets her blood pressure taken. For many rural people in East Africa, Mashavu is the first time they’ve had any healthcare assessments or treatments.
A young boy shows the card with his healthcare vitals. Mashavu’s goal is for him, and all East African youngsters, to become healthy and chubby-cheeked.
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By Barry Hochfelder

In Kenya and Tanzania, as well as most of East Africa, quality healthcare is a major problem. There is one doctor for every 50,000 people in the region. Compare that to the United States, where there is a doctor for every 390 people. Complicating matters is a lack of means to train adequate numbers of medical personnel, a poor economy—mean household income is about $1 a day—and the large distances many people must travel to receive help. Many simply don’t make the effort.

Mansali, a Kenyan mother of three, lives in a village with no doctors. She has been coughing for about a month, and then her daughter also developed a cough. To reach medical help, she and her three small children would have to walk for an hour to a taxi stop, and then ride for two hours to reach the hospital. Then they would wait in line for two or three hours to see a doctor. Mansali would lose three days of pay. She also couldn’t afford medicine or a return trip to the hospital for follow-up. For those reasons she put off going to the doctor. While concerned, she decides to wait and see if the coughs subside.

Khanjan Mehta, Senior Research Associate in the Department of Electronics and Computer Services at Penn State University’s College of Engineering, has been working summers in Kenya for the past three years. He says that most Kenyans like Mansali live in rural areas and do not get the medical attention they need. People 60 years old (and older) had never had their temperatures taken. Children didn’t receive inoculations.

“We did one village that’s 40 km (24.8 miles) from Nairobi,” Mehta says. “There’s one clinic for 10 villages. Some are on the other side of a mountain. People walked for five hours to reach a doctor. The problem is very, very real.”

So, if the community can’t get to the doctors, why not use technology to accomplish it?

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