The incidence of heart disease is rising in many low- and middle-income countries around the world due to wealthier lifestyles and greater longevity. Cameroon is no exception. According to Cameroon’s Society of Cardiologists, some 30 per cent of the country’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 whom are based in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé, leaving rural areas with virtually no cardiac care.
Zang’s patented touchscreen Cardio Pad could change that. He has invented what is believed to be Africa’s first medical tablet, which will allow health-care workers in rural areas to send the results of cardiac tests to heart specialists via a mobile-phone connection.
His company, Himore Medical, will sell the Cardio Pad as part of a complete diagnostic kit for about US$2,000, less than half the price of other, less portable, systems.
The other components in the kit are a set of four wireless electrodes and a sensor that attaches to the patient and transmits its signals via Bluetooth to the Cardio Pad. The kit takes a digitized electrocardiogram (ECG) reading of the patient’s heart function.
The health-care worker who takes this reading then transmits this information to a national data centre. Once the ECG is received, a cardiologist makes a diagnosis and sends it back to the centre to be relayed to the health-care worker treating the patient, along with prescription instructions.
The Cardio Pad has the potential to become a complete telemedicine tool, allowing measurement and transmission of integrated information on a patient’s health profile, which could help diagnose many other diseases.
The idea for the Cardio Pad emerged in 2007, when Zang was finishing his degree. Interested in applying technology to medicine, he spent a lot of time in hospitals. On one hospital visit, he was watching a television programme showing an ECG being taken. “I said to myself: ‘I wonder how that works?’” Cardiologist Professor Samuel Kingué from Yaoundé’s main hospital became a mentor, teaching Zang about the type of software needed for a portable ECG device and about how to process the data that comes from the signal.
When Zang began designing the Cardio Pad, however, financing was difficult. “I went to the banks, but they wanted all sorts of guarantees.” So he used a 21st-century solution: he posted a video about his project on Facebook to raise funds. This led to a $20,000 grant from the Cameroon Government, which Zang used to produce 20 tablets, two of which are being tested in hospitals in Cameroon.
With his Award funds, Zang will produce 100 tablets, 10 for each of Cameroon’s provinces. “My goal is to have 500 Cardio Pads being used across Cameroon,” he says. He also wants to export the device to other regions such as central Africa and India. The Cardio Pads are currently produced in China. Over the next decade, Zang hopes to shift production to Cameroon, enabling his country to benefit economically as well.
The Cardio Pad is just the first step in Arthur Zang’s mission to bring better health care to his country. He aims to set up Cardioglob, an integrated nationwide network of hospitals and cardiologists, allowing comprehensive data management and cardiac services. Zang also intends to develop a family of medical devices and technologies, such as simple ultrasound equipment, for use in rural areas. And he is already planning his next invention, a beeper to allow patients to alert their doctors in medical emergencies.