Portable heart monitors to enter African health market
Maarten van Herpen, the Head of the Philips Africa Innovation Hub, displays the Wind-Up Fetal Doppler in Nairobi - Kate Rankin

NAIROBI: Portable, battery-powered fetal heart monitors will be made available in Africa, per a memorandum of understanding that was signed between Royal Philips and South Africa-based PowerFree Education and Technology (PET) Thursday in Nairobi.

“A newborn baby dies every 10 seconds,” said Dr. Francois Bonnici, the director of PET and the Bertha Center for Social Innovation at the University of Cape Town, at a press conference before the signing. Of these deaths, he said, 95 percent were preventable, adding that technology such as the Wind-Up Fetal Doppler could be used in clinics without power; the device has a crank that allows for midwives and doctors to charge it before use.

The partnership announced Thursday will facilitate the further testing, development and commercialization of the device by Philips Africa Innovation Hub, said hub head Maarten van Herpen.

Devices such as the heart monitors require little training or extra materials, and can use water as lubricant instead of gel on the human body, Bonnici said, adding that one of Africa’s challenges was a lack of qualified health care personnel.

PET developed the device, and did clinical trials in Uganda, where they were able to observe abnormal heartbeats more accurately than with stethoscopes alone, read a Philips press release.

The procurement of the devices is generally made by local governments, said JJ Van Dongen, Philips CEO for Africa, adding that no negotiations had been made with the Egyptian government yet concerning the fetal monitors launched Thursday.

“We have a long relationship with Egypt and a very strong relationship with the private end of the government sector,” Van Dongen told The Cairo Post, adding that Philips as a company has taken on a number of collaborations for training and development, including with Ain Shams University and the Ministry of Health in the areas of mobile screening.

According to United Nations figures, Egypt has improved significantly in the last 20 years in terms of maternal health benchmarks; in 1995 only 28 percent of women received regular antenatal care, but 66 percent received care by 2008.

Disparities remain, however, between urban and rural women. Approximately 57 percent of mothers in rural Egypt received regular antenatal care, compared to 80 percent of mothers in urban areas, according to UNFPA.

Two months ago, Philips launched in certain sectors of Africa the VISIQ program, which provides battery-powered ultrasound machines that connect to tablets, and are also similarly portable and designed for rural patients.

Philips has announced its intention to launch VISIQ in Egypt in the final quarter of 2014.

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