The Handheld Cardio-Pad: Tackling Cardiovascular Disease in Africa

Healthcare challenges in the developed and developing worlds are converging, forcing life-sciences innovators to deal with similar challenges, even if from unique perspectives. Consider heart disease. Today, it is the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa for citizens over the age of 30.

Meanwhile, on the continent as a whole, 46 percent of Africans over 25 suffer from hypertension — more than anywhere else in the world — though the challenge isn’t limited to Africa. Indeed, citizens of low- and middle-income countries bear 80 percent of the world’s death burden from cardiovascular disease. And, in fact, by 2020, non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes will account for 70 percent of fatalities in developing countries. Fortunately, developing-country innovators are stepping up to the challenge.

Meet Arthur Zang, a 29 year-old Cameroonian engineer who invented the handheld Cardio-Pad, the world’s first medical tablet facilitating heart examinations and remote diagnosis. The Cardio-Pad is a touch-screen tablet device for conducting cardiac tests such as electrocardiograms in remote locations, and then sending the results to cardiologists in city centers often hundreds of miles away.

The system works in pairs: Nurses in remote villages (or patients’ homes) apply wireless electrodes that record patients’ heart signals, which are transmitted over-the-air to the nurses’ Cardio-Pads. The data is then sent to a cardiologist’s Cardio-Pad, so the doctor can remotely assess and diagnose a patient’s condition.

As is the case in many developing nations, fewer than 50 cardiologists support Cameroon’s population of over 23 million citizens. Without solutions that close the distance between cardiologists located in cities such as Douala (Cameroon’s largest) and Yaoundé (the capital), many citizens, and especially those living in remote locations or those in the most urgent need of care, will simply lack access to proper cardiovascular care.

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