A touchscreen computer device that connects remote rural patients with city-based cardiac specialists is now on sale. It has the potential to improve the health of tens of thousands of Africans.

Arthur Zang’s dream of bringing state-of-the-art cardiac medicine to remote regions of Cameroon is fast becoming a reality.

The Cardio Pad, the revolutionary electronic device developed by Zang that enables a heart patient’s symptoms to be transmitted to a distant cardiologist for diagnosis, was launched at the start of this year.

A total of 300 devices have been manufactured, with the first Cardio Pads going on sale on 22 January 2016, priced at US$3,299. Twenty units were bought online in the first week, and 43 had been purchased by early April, by customers in Cameroon and other Central African countries. Zang’s goal for the coming months is for at least 40,000 heart examinations to be performed and more than 100 hospitals to use the device.

“Today Cameroon, tomorrow the whole African continent,” says Zang, whose invention has put him at the forefront of a rising generation of African innovators and entrepreneurs. In 2012, business magazine Forbes hailed him “an example of African innovation at its finest” and in 2014 listed him among the “30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa”.

Acute need

Zang was named as one of Rolex’s Young Laureates in 2014 after identifying an acute need for a device such as the Cardio Pad in a large country of more than 20 million people served by only 50 cardiologists, all of whom are located in Cameroon’s two biggest cities. The rising toll from heart disease, particularly acute in Africa due to changing lifestyles and the difficulty of getting a reliable early diagnosis, especially in rural communities, added to his sense of urgency and mission.

Progress from his initial prototype, with four sensors, to the recent launch of the finished device has been complex but swift. Zang used funds from his Rolex Award to travel to China and South Korea in early 2015 to research ways to augment the functionality of the device, which now has 12 sensors.

“Our goal was to develop a sensor capable of receiving as many signals as possible in order to provide a complete diagnosis,” says Zang, who is chief engineer, project manager, President and Chief Executive Officer of Himore, the company that manufactures and sells the Cardio Pad.

Powerful sensor

“Thanks to the Rolex Award learning opportunity, we have designed and developed a powerful sensor that makes our devices more efficient.”

The Cardio Pad, which runs on a battery that lasts for more than seven hours, is ideally suited to remote regions of Cameroon where there is poor health infrastructure and no reliable access to electricity to run sophisticated medical equipment. Light yet robust, the portable unit eliminates long and costly trips to a medical clinic.

The touchscreen device can be operated by a nurse or technician. Signals from a series of wireless electrodes attached to the patient enable the device to produce a digitized electrocardiogram (ECG), which assesses the heart’s electrical conduction system and measures the rate and regularity of heartbeats, the size and position of the chambers, and the presence of any damage to the heart. Data is relayed via a mobile phone connection to the distant cardiologist, who downloads it to another Cardio Pad and sends back a diagnosis and treatment instructions.

Universal heart care

Zang has gained support from a number of sources to fund his dream of universal heart care in Cameroon. As well as his Rolex Award, he has received funding from the country’s president and prize money for being named the country’s young innovator of the year in 2015. Himore also took out a loan to pay for the final production costs for the device.

Of course, Zang’s passion for technological innovation, pioneering spirit and sense of public duty meant he was never likely to rest on his laurels, despite the successful commercial launch of the Cardio Pad. His company Himore is currently building a manufacturing plant to produce radio frequency identification (RFID) cards, a tagging system that allows objects to be identified electronically. Some of the funds from the sale of the Cardio Pads are being used for this project.

Learn more about Arthur Zang

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