In June 2014, Malaria Consortium hosted a series of meetings in Geneva, bringing together global experts in child health, community case management and health technology with diagnostics device developers. The organisation hopes, through such meetings, to galvanise discussions on how best to improve the tools used by community health workers and first level health facility workers in the diagnosis of symptoms of pneumonia in resource poor settings.
“We are bringing together these leaders because we urgently need to increase the detection of mild and severe symptoms of pneumonia in children in rural communities to ensure that they receive rapid and appropriate life-saving care, and at the same time reduce the unnecessary use of antibiotics,” explained Karin Källander, Malaria Consortium Senior Research Advisor. “Decisions arising from this meeting will help form a consensus on the most appropriate methods to evaluate new and existing diagnostic tools that can be used for this purpose in African and Asian communities.”
Pneumonia is one of a number of common causes of death among children below the age of five in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa - deaths that could be avoided if appropriate care is sought or made available more quickly. In response, many countries are investing in community health workers (CHWs) to deliver life-saving treatment for young children. Detection of pneumonia symptoms, however, still poses a challenge for many CHWs as the symptoms can appear similar to other febrile illnesses, often leading to wrong diagnosis and treatment.
A growing number of research groups and health technology manufacturers are focusing on development of easy-to-use electronic devices and mobile phone applications to help address this at both health facility and community level. These devices are designed to measure a patient’s respiratory rate and the amount of oxygen in the blood – both recognised, non-invasive indicators of pneumonia in young children.
Malaria Consortium’s Pneumonia Diagnostics Project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will trial a range of these innovations across four countries - Cambodia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda. The purpose is to identify the most accurate, acceptable, scalable and user-friendly respiratory rate timers and pulse oximeters for diagnosis of pneumonia by community health workers and front-line health facility workers.
A key element of the project is the creation of a multi-disciplined Scientific Advisory Committee, which brings together pneumonia experts, biomedical engineers, device manufacturers, from around the world and international agencies such as the World Health Organization and UNICEF. The Committee, which met for the first time in Geneva in June, provides high level technical expertise and oversight of the project. The meetings provided a critical opportunity for the members to approve the project methodology and agree on the scoring criteria when the efficacy of each device is evaluated.
In addition to the meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee, Malaria Consortium hosted technical consultation with key stakeholders to agree on methodologies of an international standard for assessing respiratory rate and oxygen saturation in young children. It is against this reference standard that the accuracy of these devices will be measured against.
“Malaria Consortium is committed to tackling childhood pneumonia at all levels,” said Dr. Källander. “We are working with communities, health workers, Ministries of Health and at a global level with the key players to ensure that appropriate and timely diagnosis of pneumonia is achieved to improve child health.”
To find out more about Malaria Consortium’s work in pneumonia diagnostics, please visit our project site, for more information on Malaria Consortium’s community health worker programmes visit the inSCALE website.