A Mobile Ear for Pregnancy Problems

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Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: This is The World, I'm Aaron Schachter. The United Nations recommends that pregnant women visit a health care worker four times before giving birth, but in many parts of the world that rarely happens. Resources and trained staff are scarce, and often the main tool for fetal diagnosis is something called a Pinard horn, a device invented back in the 19th century. Now some college kids in Uganda have created an updated version of the Pinard horn. The World's Clark Boyd writes about it in his latest column for the BBC's Future website. Clark, first off, what is a Pinard horn?

Clark Boyd: So Aaron, I think the best thing to imagine is one of those old ear trumpets that you used to see people using.

Schachter: Really?

Boyd: It's not unlike that. It's a cylindrical horn, it's usually about eight inches long, made from local wood or metal. It's wider at one end, and the wide end is placed against the woman's abdomen and the health care worker puts the ear to the the other end and listens. You know, this is a tool that is still used widely in Europe and throughout the rest of the world. It can tell the heart rate of the fetus, it can help determine the position of the fetus, people can get a lot of useful information from this tool.

Schachter: Now how have these college students modified the cone?

Boyd: They were looking for a project to enter in what's called the Microsoft Imagine Cup, which is big ideas for solving the world's problems, and they visited a hospital in Kampala, Uganda, and they saw people using this Pinard horn. And they thought, you know, I think we can do a better version of that, maybe something that runs off a cell phone's software, a smart phone's software. And that's how they developed this device. They call it WinSenga. Win, it's based on the Windows mobile operating system, and senga is the local word for the auntie who used to act as the midwife. So that's how they came up with the name.

Schachter: Now basically what this does is takes the sound in from the Pinard horn and explains to a midwife what they're hearing.

Boyd: It's their own custom-made kind of Pinard horn. It's that same device, but they've put a microphone in it, so that can be held up to the woman's, that microphone can pick up the same sounds that a health care worker would be hearing. But then, the real meat of this is that they've developed this application for the smart phone that can do all sorts of diagnosis on this. So even people who aren't necessarily trained health care workers can use this device and you can get a baseline idea of what's going on with the unborn child, and if there are any problems, what the next steps might be.

Schachter: You can read more about WinSenga and see a video of the device in action at TheWorld.org. Clark Boyd, thanks.

Boyd: You're welcome, Aaron.