Makerere trio’s WinSenga takes top prize

Saturday May 26 2012


Three students of Makerere University, Josiah Kavuma, Aaron Tushabe and Joshua Okello, who designed WinSenga, a miniature pregnancy scan machine that can monitor foetal movements and abnormal heart beats have become the first winners of the East and Southern Africa of the Imagine Cup, the world’s premier student technology competition hosted by Microsoft Inc.

WinSenga is an application supported by the Windows operating system of a smart phone. The hardware is made up of a SengaHorn, which is basically the traditional Pinard Horn and an audio encoder (a mini-microphone.) The device derives its name WinSenga from Windows and the SengaHorn.

A Pinard Horn is a old foetal listening device used by midwives, with the flat end placed on the ear while the horn part is used to move around the pregnant woman’s abdomen to listen to foetal movements.  

The WinSenga makes antenatal diagnosis more effective, timely and most critically in developing countries, affordable, says Joseph Kaizzi, a software engineer with a softare developing firm Thinvoid, who mentored the three Makerere students. 

Kavuma, Tushabe and Okello are all second year students at the School of Computing and Informatics Technology (CIT) at Makerere University. 

According to Kavuma, the team came up with the idea after they visited the labour ward in Mulago Hospital and saw the numbers and suffering of pregnant women. About 50,000 women visit Mulago Hospital annually for antenatal services.

“We thought of an innovation that would impact the world of expectant mothers,” said Kavuma. “We also wished to impact on UN Millennium Development Goal 5, which is reducing maternal mortality by 2015,” he added.

The team says that although the gadget has not yet been officially priced, they estimate it would cost $5-$10 for the modified Pinard Horn depending on the material used to make it, and $100-$500 for the smart phone.

Depending on the price of the smart phone used, the device will be 80 per cent cheaper than the ultrasound scan, which costs at least $3,000 and requires regular maintenance by an expert. The WinSenga application is an appropriate response to real issues facing antenatal care service providers, says Michael Niyitegeka the head of corporate affairs at CIT.

“The integration of modern technology — smart phone — and traditional technology — Pinard Horn — is a milestone in enabling appropriate diagnosis using cost-effective technology,” he told The East-African.

The team insisted on the application working on a smart phone, which is a costly platform, because it is the best. The SengaHorn encodes audio input from various positions of the mother’s womb and electronically passes signals to the smart phone where the diagnosis application is installed.

Kaizzi, who guided the students through the invention process, explains that the software application consists of several audio analysis, pattern recognition and data recording modules. Together the module algorithms deduce the foetal heart rate, the positioning of the foetus and other factors that are directly tied to the foetal heart rate.

The algorithms then convert this data into possible prescription for the diagnosis implied by the deduced parameters. This prescription is displayed in simple natural language for inexperienced and unprofessional midwives and traditional birth attendants to read and apply.

Kavuma hopes they win the Imagine cup worldwide and use the cash to scale up the innovation. The finals will be held in July in Sydney, Australia.