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Kyambogo varsity develops indigenous medical devices

Innovation is becoming a by-word in some of Uganda’s universities. When Makerere University developed Kiira EV, the highly-publicised electric car, many people thought it was one of the biggest breakthroughs for the innovative brains at the university. But innovations are not a preserve for Makerere. Kyambogo University has now come under the limelight for a number of initiatives undertaken by her students. Augustine Rugyema, the head of department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Kyambogo University, says they are training students not just to go out and work for others, but also come up with their own innovations.

“This [innovations] is what Uganda needs,” he says.

Two students, Ashirae Segane, 24, and Omar Muballe, 25, both recent graduates of Biomedical Engineering at Kyambogo University, are leading efforts to locally make a baby incubator. They are also in the process of developing an electrocardiogram, machine used in hospitals to monitor the functioning of one’s heart. Muballe, one of the brains behind the baby incubator, says they have the capacity to produce an incubator in one week if they had resources and sustainable funding – the issue he says has very much curtailed their efforts.

“We need to be supported; I am sure we can do a lot more,” he says.

Baby incubator

The project started late 2011. According to John Okuonzi, a lecturer in the department of Biomedical Engineering and the project coordinator, they started the project after realising that there were so many babies being born prematurely yet there is limited equipment in our hospitals to protect and stabilise their fragile lives.

“About 90% of the babies born prematurely in Uganda die – which is a very bad statistic,” Okuonzi said.

“We are improvising to come up with it [baby incubator] and if finished, the cost [should be] cheaper than the imported ones’.”

Currently, the imported incubator can go for about Shs 50m, the locally made will go for as low as Shs 1.5m, according to Okuonzi. Segane and Muballe first made one out of wood and wooden material, but when they contacted experts, they were informed that this would be prone to harbouring microorganisms which would cause babies to fall sick.

They then changed and used plastic material, which they say is better. Their incubator can maintain between 34 and 37 degrees Celsius, the temperature needed for a human being to survive. They are awaiting a clinical trial, where a premature baby will be placed in their incubator. There is a challenge, though: the machine solely depends on grid electricity; so, they need to find a solution for back-up power.

Electrocardiogram

Kyambogo University students are in the final stages of designing an electrocardiogram that will see hospitals access this equipment at a cheaper price. When finished, their machine will have three lights: green, red and yellow. When monitoring the heart and it lights red, it means the heart beats are normal; green means the heart beats are low and yellow means it is a high – indicating there is problem. It will also have a screen to display the number of times the heart beats at a given time. According to Rugyema, the machine is to be completed in a few months’ time.

Integrated Information Management System

This is the information management database software designed to run and coordinate key university projects. Also developed by students of Biomedical Engineering, the system is intended to create an e-campus.

“The system is [relevant] to academic information management and other operations of the university,” said Okuonzi, the project coordinator.

According to Okuonzi, students will be tracked right from when they are admitted up to when they leave the university.

“Even at the time of applying, a student will not need to come to Kyambogo. [They can] go online [and] apply; the system will be integrated to banks [for] payments after applying.

“This is some of the works being done to make life at university very easy. With this project, before graduation day, students will be able to take their transcripts.”

Kyambogo University has been in the spotlight for students’ marks alterations, especially towards graduation. This is probably so because students’ performances are not well tracked. But according to Okuonzi, “once the data is entered into the system, no alteration will be done [without being detected].”

The system will also be key in tracking the human resource at the university.

Innovations center

If organised well, Kyambogo University’s future in terms of innovations could be brighter, according to Francis Gibongo, the head of department, Mechanical Engineering. He says they hope to start a students’ centre to cater for students’ innovations.

“Lack of an organised central system is crippling us,” he says, “People’s ideas are not well-documented and coordinated; they are kept to themselves alone and they end up not developing them.”

“And being in crises [students and lecturers’ strikes] all the time, one after the other, has also left Kyambogo behind in terms of innovations – we would be doing better.”  

aamwesigwa@gmail.com

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