For those of you who worry about world-wide access to sleep apnea therapy: Pumani. If you have children born with acute respiratory infections: Pumani. Spent thousands of dollars on CPAP machines or equipment? Pumani.
It’s no secret that health care services in sub-Saharan Africa lag behind those found in developed countries. Many of these nations are faced with difficult health quandaries: the region accounts for up to 70% of the world’s AIDS cases, for example, and I’m sure most of us are familiar with the Sally Struthers infomercials about poverty and hunger too.
One problem that often goes undiagnosed and untreated is acute respiratory infections (ARIs), the leading cause of mortality for children 5 and under. What’s worse is, the fatality rate is compounded in low-income countries around the world.
An ARI is similar to an apneic event in that it involves the respiratory system. There are many different ways in which an ARI can affect the patient, but the solution is the same for all: Pumani.
Punami translates to “breathe easy” from Chichewa, a language spoken in Malawi. Pumani is also — not coincidentally — the name of a groundbreaking new piece of technology used in treating ARIs. Developed by students at Rice University, Punami is the name given to their low-cost bubble CPAP machine. The bCPAP works like a regular CPAP in that it works to keep patients’ lungs inflated, making it easier to breathe.
This is important, because tens of thousands of patients in Africa are about to discover the magic of BiPAP machines. In 2013, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) granted $400,000 for the distribution of these machines in African countries. Save the Children, an international charity for the well-being of the world’s children, has partnered with GSK in distributing and implementing these machines in Malawi, but also extending care to Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa. Because of the low cost of a bCPAP, the hope is that use of the Pumani will snowball.
The typical patient of the Rice University BiPAP machine will be babies, particularly infants born prematurely. Often times, premature babies don’t have fully developed lungs. Young children with ARIs are also susceptible to lung-related health risks, including pneumonia, acute pharyngitis, and bronchitis. Continued use of the bCPAP will protect their lungs, and help counteract the potential of these other disorders from developing.
The benefits could be staggering. A Pumani machine costs approximately 15 times less than a traditional CPAP machine, and estimates suggest that as many as 178,000 lives a year will be saved with this humanitarian aid. If that projection proves correct, GSK will pay a whopping $2.25 per life saved, which is critical because the low cost of the machine is vital in making treatment accessible to a group of people who have never had this kind of care before.
One problem still remains: the lack of awareness and action in regards to sleep apnea and its related disorders worldwide. Sure, thousands of lives will be saved with this project, but this is new technology that has potential to spread further. Ideally, this technology will spread throughout the continent, and because of its incredibly low cost, save hundreds of thousands of life.