mScan, a team of design, medical & programming experts from Uganda, has recently received a welcome push by the African tech startup community. At the TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa, held in Lagos (Nigeria), the mScan startup from Uganda was elected ‘the most promising sub-Saharan African startup’. The company has developed a small ultrasound device that can help detect risk factors of maternal mortality in rural Africa.
Kampala-based social enterprise mScan received recognition for many years of hard work from a 500+ audience of international investors, developers, health workers and government officials. The mScan team was one of the selected start-up companies that was invited to pitch their innovations. It emerged as the winner of the 2018 edition in Nigeria, receiving a 25,000 USD equity free grand prize.
The Ugandan start-up develops portable mobile ultrasound devices that are laptop, tablet and mobile phone-enabled. Their mobile solution impressed the audience and judges with its potential to make medical devices affordable for Africa. The easy-to-use and affordable mobile ultrasound solution makes sense in remote parts of Africa, where maternal and infant mortality is relatively high.
Smartphone and probe
The mScan is a portable scanner that consists of a smartphone that is loaded with the mSan software and a probe that can be moved over the body, creating ultrasound scan images on the screen that can be interpreted by doctors and nurses. "It is a small tool that can make a big difference in rural areas. In fact, I would say this mScan device gives mothers and children a chance of life”, says Phyllis Kyamuhendo, imaging technologist & co-founder of mScan Uganda.
She explains that mothers in Africa's rural areas generally have no access to ultrasound. "Manoeuvring large machinery from hospitals in rural areas is impossible. Also, the ultrasound machines are energy-intensive. What we needed was a portable, mobile solution. With the support of the United Nations Population Fund, the UNFPA, we have developed the first African portable ultrasound scanner." A scanner that can help detect pregnancy complications and prevent life-threatening situations to mothers and children.
Field trip encounter
A field trip to the Mubende region in Uganda underlines the importance of the small device in the lives of pregnant women and their unborn children in Africa. The Mubende region has a teenage pregnancy rate at 35% both above national averages. The large area has only three ultrasound service points that serve in public health care system.
The mScan report about the field trip states: “The conversation with a 28-year-old mother carrying her fifth pregnancy is what brought the plight of situation to light. She had never had an ultrasound done to her. The only knowledge she had about ultrasound (‘akativi’ in the local language), was that it was done in the district centres some 30 kms away. If she wanted to get one, she would have to part with Ug shs 16,000 (€3,80, ed.) which was transport alone to this centre. The scan would cost her another Ug shs 15,000 (€3,56, ed.). She had had a difficult birth to her second born. When told about the possibility of knowing the sex of her child before it were born, her heart almost came out of her chest. “You mean that is possible, I would very much love that. I would even shop better clothes if it were a sweet baby girl”.
Early detection of risk factors
The mScan team decided to make Mubende area its first target region to start offering their lifesaving ultrasound services to the local people at a low cost. The report: “Like many places around Uganda, mScan will go a long way in saving the lives of pregnant mothers through early detection of risk factors of maternal mortality.”