YAOUNDE - Cameroon is experimenting with Africa's first mobile system to transmit a cardiac signal over a mobile network, allowing heart patients in remote areas vital medical assistance. The Cardiopad is the brainchild of Cameroon engineer Arthur Zang, who was just 24 years old when he invented it two years ago.
Medical staff at the Bafia hospital are using a touch screen medical tablet that enables heart examinations, such as the electrocardiogram, to be performed at remote, rural locations while the results of the tests are transferred wirelessly to specialists who can interpret them.
A 55-year-old patient, Simplice Momo, said the cardiopad saves him time and money accessing treatment in the capital, where the nearest heart specialist is found.
"It has been about a year now that they said I had a cardiovascular disease. I have been travelling to the city to take treatment. But since they brought this machine [device], they just put the machine on me and I no longer travel to the city. It was expensive for me," said Momo.
Cameroon has a population of about 22 million people, with only 40 heart surgeons concentrated in Douala or Yaounde. Sometimes the expertise needed can only be found outside the country.
Saint Elizabeth Cardiac Center Nurse Apolonia Budzee told VOA the device will enable them to transmit medical information from their more than 300 patients to specialists who are based in Europe.
"We do not have a resident surgeon. So we have various teams coming from Italy, from France, Sweden, Germany and other places. So we are not working on a daily basis. We collect the patients and then program and call the people up to come and operate," said Budzee.
That is exactly what inventor Arthur Zang envisioned five years ago when he started this project. The young computer engineer said he needed additional training and $45,000 to develop the device. His family did not have the money and banks turned him down for loans, so he shared his idea on social media and he found the answers.
One was an unexpected investor, Cameroon President Paul Biya, who personally gave him the funds. Zang also got free online training from an engineering school in India.
"When I decided to design the tablet at the electronic level, I did not have the knowledge because I was basically a computer science engineer. So I decided to learn electronics online. So I went to the internet and discovered a free education program provided by the Indian Institute of technology. This is how I learned electronics online," said Zang.
The Cardiopad has been validated by the Cameroon scientific community as extremely effective. The 25 centimeter touch screen connects to electrodes placed on a patient’s heart and transmits a digitized heart signal via a Bluetooth interface over a mobile network.
Hanns Nfor of the Cameroon Medical Council said Zang has made proud not only Cameroon, but all of Africa.
"That boy is a genius. He is very, very, intelligent. He needs to be assisted in his effort to help people," said Nfor.
The government of Cameroon has not been able to provide the device, costing about $4,000, to hospitals in need. Most of them lack internet access and energy.
But the limited trials in Cameroon are attracting attention and may bring the assistance needed.
Zang says he has had commercial investors contact him, but he is more interested in socially committed investors who shared his vision; not of money, but of better ways to help improve people’s lives.