SFU students build healthcare app to improve medical delivery in Uganda

Computer software built as a class project has real-world applications, and may spread to other countries

SFU students, and developers of a health care application. Left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Chloe Huang, Simran Gulati, Jeffrey Leung, Matt Doyle, Kevin Le, Vinson Ly, Sachin Raturi, Kat Siu.

Written by: Kim Regala, Staff Writer

A class project developed by a group of SFU Software Systems students will have a real world impact in the area of maternal health care in Uganda.  

Currently, Uganda’s healthcare system uses the Cradle VSA (Vital Signs Alert), a portable medical device that measures a person’s heart rate and blood pressure. The problem, however, is that the Cradle VSA is presently a paper-based patient tracking system, in that patient records are kept and filed on paper. This makes for a slower process of diagnosis and treatment, leading to less efficient means of preventing illnesses.

Simran Gulati, one of the students who worked on the project, noted that the device is “meant to solve the problem of [ . . . ] having a really high number of preventable maternal deaths.” On average, these occur about 295,000 times per year worldwide — roughly 800 per day, according to 2017 data from the World Health Organization. 

“80% of that happens in low-income areas. And a lot of them are preventable by [ . . . ] checking vitals and getting check-ups early on,” Gulati explained.

“[Our] application replaces the paper-based system and allows people in Ugandan villages to be diagnosed quicker, with better information flow and with greater accessibility,” said Jeffrey Leung, the software and UI designer of the project. “That’s why this was such [an] impactful project.”

What Gulati and Leung’s team have created is a mobile application that acts as an extension to the Cradle VSA. Through their system, health care workers are able to track all of their patients’ records and inform them of their diagnosis and treatment plans more efficiently.

The idea began in a computer science course offered at SFU, Software Development Methods, also known as CMPT 373. The class was taught by Dr. Brian Fraser who gave students the opportunity to work with a real-life client on the Cradle app for their term project. Gulati and Leung expressed how they enjoyed working in groups. 

“Everyone was diverse and had a unique [specialty],” Leung commented, “which added to the whole functionality of the team.”

There were, of course, challenges along the way. Gulati noted that the biggest challenge in the early stages was communication. “Usually for group projects, you’re in a [small] group [ . . . ] Now when you’re working with a group of seven people [ . . . ] there’s a lot of room for error and miscommunication. And I think that was a challenge that we all identified pretty early on and tackled it by putting in processes in place.”

Now, with their application complete and fully functional, the next step for the group is to undergo field trials. This would mean testing the application and temporarily implementing it in Uganda. Long-term goals for the app are to make the application compatible for other countries. 

“We’re looking at countries like Sierra Leone right now and [are trying] to create a system that can be compatible with their health care system there.”