Students left-to-right, top-to-bottom: Chloe Huang, Simran Gulati, Jeffrey Leung, Matt Doyle, Kevin Le, Vinson Ly, Sachin Raturi, Kat Siu. This group's project was selected by the CRADLE VSA researchers.

Software systems students use their education for good to improve healthcare in Uganda

January 31, 2020

By: Andrew Ringer

SFU software systems students are working with health-care workers in Uganda, and academic researchers in London, to develop new technology that will identify pregnancy complications among women in rural communities.

More than 800 pregnancy and childbirth-related deaths occur every day around the world. Nearly all of these occur in developing countries where women have limited access to health care and are not regularly monitored during pregnancy.

The students are working with a research team at King’s College London that developed CRADLE Microlife Vital Signs Alert (VSA), an easy-to-use portable device that rural health-care workers can use to identify pregnancy-related complications early, which can help to prevent avoidable deaths.

Student teams were tasked with devising an application for the device that could record its readings, and with creating a website interface that could track them. CRADLE VSA researchers then selected the team with the best approach, and are now working with them to refine it.

A health-care worker in Uganda using the CRADLE VSA device to monitor a pregnant woman's blood pressure and heart rate.

“We are working on a product that might be used in potentially urgent medical situations, so we really wanted to make sure we got it right,” says Kat Siu, a member of the team whose project was selected.

SFU computing science lecturer Brian Fraser says giving his students real-world project experience is a key goal in the software systems program.

“Not only do students learn the technical side of working on a project like this, but they also learn how to work in a team and contribute to the team environment,” he says. “Students come out of the program realizing that they’ve got valuable skills and that they can do something meaningful.”

Sachin Raturi, another team member, says, “I believe that the software systems degree is much more hands-on and practical than other degrees. It was easy to see the potential of this project, not just in Uganda but in any country with low internet connectivity and poor resources. I have always been looking for projects where I can make a huge difference.”

About the connection:

This project came through a connection that computing science lecturer Brian Fraser has with the CRADLE VSA team. Originally, Fraser developed the application to record the device’s readings, replacing the unreliable paper system that was previously used by community health workers in Uganda. After realizing that the application would need further development as well as an interface to store the data, he decided that his CMPT 373 class should use their skills for good.

About the software systems program:

Software systems is an applied area of computer science that focuses on the development of high-quality software for public and private industry. Embedded software is used in so many of our everyday items; cell phones, security systems, internet search engines, movie and music distribution, and in specialized areas such as medical imaging, financial analysis systems, and safety critical applications like air traffic control systems.  This is a practical, hands-on program delivered through a combination of lectures, case studies, and individual and team projects. Graduates will have a solid understanding of the software development life cycle including testing and verification, documentation, and revision control, all of which are needed to take projects from conception to delivery.