Mbarara Hospital is the first medical facility in Uganda to be provided with the life-saving oxygen to places without a reliable supply. The rate of children who die from pneumonia every year in the world is very high. However, it is even worse in African countries.
Oxygen: The Breath of Life
Peter is eight months old. He has been rushed to the hospital following breathing complications. He has pneumonia; if he doesn’t get oxygen soon, he could die. Two days later, Peter is feeling much better. He is the very first patient to be treated with a life-saving invention. It provides concentrated oxygen to places without a reliable supply.
Pneumonia is among the leading killer disease of children under five in the world. Most deaths are in lower-income countries like Uganda. Oxygen is vital for a patient’s recovery, but in some hospitals, like Mbarara, a reliable source can be hard to get. A team of physicists thought they could help.
The Magical Material
Room air or the air around is 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and carbon dioxide from people breathing out. Somehow if the nitrogen is removed from that air, then what is left is oxygen. Therefore, the physicists started by looking at a device called Oxygen Concentrator. In the beginning, all there was, was a compressor, a couple of canisters of material.
“We looked at them, and inside all there was, was a compressor and some magic material. We call them magic because of what it can do,” said
The material looks like sand, but when air is passed through it, nitrogen gets trapped, leaving the air with oxygen.
The Free O2 System
However, the device needs constant power, and here in Mbarara, power cuts are common, which can be fatal. Therefore, they had to find a solution. The physicists thought storing the oxygen was much better. When the power is on, the concentrator sends spare oxygen to a storage system. The storage system is a big bag with two flexible bladders inside. One of the bladders is for water and the other for O2.
The first bladder fills with O2, and it pushes against the water bladder. Therefore, the water is forced through a tube into a tank above. If the power cuts out, then water in the tank flows down. This action pushes the oxygen out to the patients like baby Peter.
Since the devices were put in the hospital, the mortality rate has reduced completely. The rates dropped drastically from 80% to 20% with a few months. Most children are improving because of free O2. They can recover fast as compared to before, and most of them get to be released home in no time.
“If a baby is admitted in the hospital due to breathing issues and is unable to sit or do any activity within 24 hours of admission, the baby can play although still under oxygen,” said Addy Arhiwe, a Pediatric nurse in Mbarara Hospital.
Five hundred children have been treated with the FreeO2 system so far. There are plans to roll it out to another 20 health centers in Uganda.