In Cameroon, need spurs heart care innovation

JOHANNESBURG -- The Cameroonian-designed Cardiopad is a portable, touchscreen tablet that performs all of the functions of a traditional EKG, but it's specially designed for rural healthcare.
Written by Dave Mayers, Correspondent, Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG -- Arthur Zang saw a need in the Cameroonian healthcare system, and the young engineer has worked for the last three years to fill it. Zang, 24, is the inventor of the Cardiopad, a portable, touchscreen tablet that performs all of the functions of a traditional electrocardiograph. The device differs from a standard EKG in the way it saves and shares patients' data, wirelessly transmitting it to trained professionals who could be miles away from the rural towns and villages where it might be used.

People from around the world have hailed the Cameroonian inventor since the Cardiopad was officially unveiled earlier this month. And while it was built to address certain problems with local healthcare -- there are only some 30 cardiologists in the country of 20 million and most of  them are located in the nation's two largest cities -- the Cardiopad could be useful in similar areas across the globe, in developed as well as developing countries.

Zang is part of a growing group of young, African innovators. These people have taken things that have always acted as impediments to development on the continent and tried to turn them to their advantage. The Cardiopad doesn't garner the attention it has without a lack of trained heart surgeons in the country. It's not clear whether Zang would have embraced wireless technology if Camtel, the state-run telecom monopoly, had built wired infrastructure that served more than one in 100 Cameroonians.

This "bottom-up" innovation is starting to grab people's attention outside of Africa as its applications in the wider world become clearer.

At 54 years, Cameroon has one of the shortest life expectancies in the world. Limited access to and the prohibitive cost of quality healthcare are two obstacles that Zang is trying to address with his invention.

"The Cardiopad will cut down the cost of examination. We intend to sell the device for 1500 euros, while the current price for an electrocardiograph device is 3800 euros. If hospitals purchase the device at a low price, they will be able to lower the prices of medical examinations," Zang said in an interview with Radio Netherlands.

Arthur Zang demonstrating the Cardiopad (French)

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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