Guest Author

Michael Hawkes is a clinician-scientist and pediatric infectious disease consultant at the University of Alberta (Stollery Children’s Hospital). His research interests include pediatric pneumonia and malaria. He runs projects in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On November 12, the world comes together to raise awareness about Pneumonia, the leading infectious killer of children under five years old. Last year, more than 900,000 children died from this preventable and treatable illness, accounting for 15% of under-five child mortality worldwide, 2% of which are newborns. Most of the victims live in low- and middle income countries. Oxygen therapy can save lives but this critical intervention is challenging to administer in remote areas. Six-month old baby boy, Akampurira Benson, born in Uganda, could have been another number in a staggering list of fatalities. Lucky for him, it turned out differently.

Benson was brought to the Kihihi hospital in Uganda, critically sick with lethargy, poor feeding, cough, and struggling to breathe. He was air hungry and urgently in need of life-saving oxygen. The electrical power was out in the whole region and there was no oxygen at Kihihi hospital.

Michael Hawkes (Stollery Children’s Hospital) at work in Africa

Michael Hawkes (Stollery Children’s Hospital) at work in Africa

The health worker on duty that day, Kamukaama Paster, knew of our “Solar Powered Oxygen Delivery” innovation, supported by Grand Challenges Canada (funded by the Government of Canada). Using the sun to extract oxygen from the air to rescue children with pneumonia, was the idea of our study project.

Kamukaama Paster quickly phoned our study coordinator Kanyonyozi John and arranged to transfer the patient. On the back of a motorcycle, across 16km of bumpy dirt roads, the mother carried her sick infant to our site in Kambuga. Benson received solar powered oxygen, and his blood oxygen level rose to normal levels. He was treated with antibiotics, recovered over 4 days, and went home, cured! Without solar powered oxygen, the outcome may have been much different.

Benson breathing Solar Powered Oxygen

Benson breathing Solar Powered Oxygen

Solar powered oxygen delivery is our bold idea and innovative solution for pediatric pneumonia patients in remote locations in sub-Saharan Africa. People in Uganda are hearing about our life-saving therapy and we have become the de facto referral centre for children with pneumonia in this resource-poor area. In fact, we are the only hospital that can reliably provide quality-assured oxygen in the whole region, thanks to our innovation, Solar Powered Oxygen Delivery.

It is very gratifying to fill an important gap in pediatric service delivery in the area, all while establishing proof-of-concept of this potentially transformative technology.

Follow Michael Hawkes on Twitter @MichaelHawkesMD.

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