mHealth Research Daily, with Tim Bredrup

In many low resource settings, microscopy is one of the most important procedures for the diagnosis and control of various bacterial and parasitic infections, including tuberculosis, malaria and diarrhoeal, urinary and reproductive tract diseases.

Microscopy services are often suboptimal due to, for example, insufficient training and maintenance, poor slide preparation techniques, poor condition of the microscope, and low quality of essential laboratory supplies.

In Uganda, a study was carried out to determine the feasibility of using mobile phones to capture microscopy images and transfer them to a central database for assessment. Images of microscopy samples were taken using a prototype connector that has the ability to fix a variety of mobile phones to a microscope. Clear images were captured using mobile phone cameras of 2-5 mega pixels and sent via 3G mobile Internet to a website where they were visualized and remotely diagnosed. Feedback was then provided to the sender in the form of text messages.

The results of the study confirmed that it is indeed feasible to use the technologies of mobile phones to capture and send microscopy images for remote diagnosis. Furthermore, the potential benefit is significant in resource poor settings.

Malaria parasites were so clearly visible on the mobile phone screen that it was often possible to identify the parasite stage. To obtain a clear image of a TB bacterium stained with Ziehl Neelsen proved to be more difficult as the TB bacteria are small, 1–4 microns in length. If bacteria were not abundant it was challenging to capture a good image suitable for diagnosis or confirmation.

Although the system is in need of fine tuning, there is a great demand for this type of technology according to various stakeholders in the health care chain. The next proposed step is to design several connector prototypes along with various formats of the mobile forms and have the whole system tested in a controlled setting with one reference hospital supervising a limited number of peripheral clinics.

Authors: Tuijn CJ, Hoefman BJ, van Beijma H, Oskam L, Chevrollier N

Institution: KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) Biomedical Research – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Original Abstract: www.plosone.org