When Cameroonian inventor Arthur Zang conceived the idea for a medical device that would connect people in rural areas suffering from cardiovascular disease to medical practitioners in cities, he had neither the finance nor the training to actualise his dream. A computer scientist, Zang needed knowledge of medical electronics for his project so he turned to the internet for help. He enrolled in a free online course by the Indian Institute of Technology.

“After this,” he said, “I was able to design an electronic device. It was a very big challenge to learn the technology, and the internet is a very good tool to learn.”

In 2010, at 24, Zang manufactured a prototype of the CardioPad, with a $1,300 loan his mother procured from a bank. The CardioPad is a portable medical touch tablet used to carry out remote heart examinations and diagnosis. With the prototype, he made a video demonstration of how the device works and uploaded it to Facebook. The video got the attention of his country’s president, Paul Biya, who gave him $30,000 with which he made 20 devices.

Zang at work. Photo: bbc.co.uk
Zang at work. Photo: bbc.co.uk

The CardioPad allows electrocardiograms (ECG) to be performed in rural areas. It connects remotely to electrodes and a sensor placed on a patient’s body and transmits digitized cardio signals through Bluetooth interface over a mobile network. With the device, local health workers can carry out the simple procedure and transmit the result to cardiologists at hospitals in the nation’s capital or other metropolises who then make diagnosis and prescribe medication. The device is equipped with a battery that can run independently for around six hours at full charge.

The aim of the invention, Zang has said, was to increase the availability of cardiac healthcare for those living in rural parts of Cameroon, without necessarily making the expensive trip to the cities for checkups. His goal is to have up to 500 CardioPads in hospitals in Cameroon and, subsequently, distribute them in rural communities in Africa and India.

Presently, electronic parts for the device are manufactured in China but assembled in Cameroon. For importation of the components, Zang has benefited from an exemption of customs duties granted by the Cameroonian government. Though in the future, he plans on moving the entire production process home to support the domestic economy.

When Zang needed more money to scale up his enterprise, he made another video demonstration and submitted it to the Rolex Awards for Enterprise, which he won in 2014. He received 50,000 Swiss francs, about $55,677, in prize money, which helped him to produce 100 additional tablets, 10 for each province in Cameroon.

The CardioPad. Photo: wipo.int
The CardioPad. Photo: wipo.int

Zang is a 2013 Time Magazine “30 under 30 People Who are Changing the World”. He is a 2007 graduate of computer science from the University of Yaoundé, Cameroon. In 2009, he completed a master’s at the National Advanced School of Engineering Yaoundé. In 2011, he founded the company, Hilmore Medical Equipment, which markets the CardioPad. He works at the company as CEO and researcher.

“As long as we shall not understand in Africa that being a researcher is a full-time job, Africa will not develop,” he noted, while decrying the state of research on the continent. “As long as we shall not understand that research work is absolutely a necessary domain and not optional, it will not take-off. If researchers and politicians do not succeed in agreeing on this subject, growth will be factitious because it will not be sustained by anything viable.”

Beside the CardioPad, Zang is already working on other ideas, namely, a simple ultrasound device adapted for use in rural areas and a beeper that helps patients alert their doctors in cases of emergencies.

 

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