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The Sun is Shining on Pneumonia Patients in Uganda


Sometimes when we as people do something, whatever it may be, it is difficult for us to see the big picture behind our actions. In most cases, what we do is things that are of our choosing that will benefit us and help move us closer towards our goal. It isn’t necessarily selfish, but rather an endeavor in reality.

On the inverse, sometimes people do things that are a direct response to something else that is going on, locally or abroad. They do something not for themselves, but for others; more importantly, people who can’t do something for themselves.

This story is about the latter of the two.

Dr. Michael Hawkes is a researcher from the University of Alberta and to say that he has a big heart would be putting it mildly. As an assistant professor in pediatric infectious diseases, Dr. Hawkes has spent much of his time taking his unique and lifesaving skill set directly to impoverished nations across the world, mainly in Africa and more specifically Uganda.

It was on these life-saving missions that Dr. Hawkes witnessed first-hand the problem that many of these children are facing every day – pneumonia – a lung inflammation caused by bacterial or viral infection, in which the air sacs fill with puss and may become solid.

“When your lungs don’t work, that means oxygen delivery from the air to the blood is impaired. You can literally succumb within minutes,” Hawkes said.

In our western world and largely due to our advanced health care systems, pneumonia is not the serious diagnosis it once was. In fact, thanks to access to something as simple as oxygen has saved countless lives of this potentially fatal respiratory problem. However, when oxygen is not readily available, like in place like Uganda, pneumonia can be a death sentence. That is, until now.

Typically, life-saving oxygen for medical use is either stored in cylinders or is produced using electrically powered concentrators. Sadly, as Hawkes realized, was that in the parts of Uganda where he worked, the power was constantly going out and cylinders where scarce and not readily available.

Out of options, Hawkes, in part with the Grant Challenges Canada’s funding, developed a solar-powered concentrator that is sourced and made completely out of local materials and pulls oxygen out of the air for medical use.

“We treated children with pneumonia and the system worked,” Hawkes said.

The key to Hawkes’s success in this venture has been his sourcing of local and readily available materials. Given Uganda’s political, economic and geographical situation, it is incredibly difficult for viable material to be had. By re-purposing what materials are available, proper medical treatment can reach even the remotest parts throughout the country.