This summer Unicef set the challenge of designing wearable and sensor technology that serves people in resource constrained environments. In the run up to the announcement of the winners on 12th November, we're proud to cover the teams and their prototype wearables, each aiming to make great impact in the fields of health, child abuse prevention, clean water safety and much more.
In the eighth of our series, we interviewed the team behind TermoTell, a real time temperature monitor and alert system, designed to save the lives of children under five at risk of Malaria.
The original motivation was to develop a solution that can save children’s lives. A wearable device is a personal technology, and we wanted it to be integrated into their lives.TermoTell is a medical device, but it doesn’t have to feel like one, not to the child who has to wear it for 24 hour, nor for their mother or other caregiver. We believe that the joyful and colorful design will evoke more positive feelings towards the wearable and can increase usage.
What has been the medical reaction to TermoTell, particularly from people who work in the field of Malaria?
We talked with three different doctors specialised in infectious diseases. All of them were excited about the extra information regarding the temperature and sweat patterns that TermoTell can provide. As we showed in our product video, Dr. Sarah Hochman that actively works in the field (Malawi) and is first author of a recent work title “Fatal Pediatric Cerebral Malaria Is Associated with Intravascular Monocytes and Platelets That Are Increased with HIV Coinfection,” got the attention of the New York Times. Dr. Hochman was willing to share her opinion of TermoTell publically.
Health and safety of any wearable, particularly for under 5s is paramount, and the ‘chewability’ of the TermoTell is great. Is the material selection a difficult process along with the technical side?
Absolutely. And our selections have been challenged several times along the way during the review of our design proposal. With the help of our challenge coaches we learned about the risks and regulations of wearable technology especially when it comes to children. We are still testing different materials for the MVP, and are considering using fabric as well as medical silicon.
Fast and accurate diagnosis of a child’s symptoms appears key to the impact of TermoTell’s function. Could there be future potential diagnoses in addition to Malaria?
TermoTell was originally designed to be used in the setting of malaria given the specific patterns of fever and sweat that malaria has. However, when we were digging deeper into the concept we soon realised that TermoTell could also identify other diseases such as typhoid fever, a disease that also has a particular temperature pattern. Moreover, monitoring the temperature of children living in endemic areas of so many different diseases could bring us valuable information about the patterns of other diseases, making TermoTell a learning machine that could undercover other specific patterns for more diseases.
What impact do you project the prototype having in five years time should it be the Unicef Wearables winner?
The impact that TermoTell could have is enormous. Every year more than half a million people die of malaria, most of them children under-5 in sub-Saharan Africa that succumb mostly of cerebral malaria. There is no specific treatment for cerebral malaria and ~20% of the children that develop the disease die in the first 24-48 hours after admission. A fast diagnosis, alert to the caregivers and a faster treatment could save the lives of 100,000 children every year only from malaria.
In five years we could be saving the lives of millions of children, reducing the spread of malaria and getting closer to eradicating or accelerating the treatment of the disease. While TermoTell continues gathering information, other algorithms to diagnose other diseases will be developed, becoming a diagnosis tool accessible and easy to use. Last, but not least, the rapid alert to the caregivers will provide fast information of possible outbreaks of fever diseases to the international community helping to answer and contain them as quickly as possible.
Monitoring the temperature of children living in endemic areas of so many different diseases could bring us valuable information about the patterns of other diseases, making TermoTell a learning machine that could undercover other specific patterns for more diseases.