Better tools to detect signs of severe illness in children

Devices to measure vital signs such as oxygen in blood help identify children who require urgent care


In 2017, more than five million children died before the age of 5, most of them from diseases that can be prevented and treated.

Low oxygen in the blood is one of the main signs of severe illness, but tools for measuring blood oxygen levels are often not available in low-income countries.  There are no standard specifications to guide countries in choosing the best devices, and no information is available on their cost-effectiveness or suitability for primary care.

Lacking these important devices, frontline health workers have difficulty identifying children who might require immediate hospitalization. Patients may receive medicines they don’t need. Misuse of antibiotics, in turn, gives rise to drug-resistant superbugs.

The World Health Organization recommends pulse oximeters for primary health care as part of integrated management of childhood illness, but they are rarely used.


PATH will work with the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in India, Kenya, Myanmar, Senegal and Tanzania to pilot easy-to-use pulse oximeters in primary health care. The partners will gather data on the devices’ affordability, feasibility and impact. They will also help countries with procurement of the devices and to develop policies on their use.

The project, dubbed Tools for Integrated Management of Childhood Illness (TIMCI), also seeks to develop portable devices that can read more than one vital sign.  A single device, for example, could measure blood oxygen and hemoglobin.

The impact we are seeking

Identifying severely ill children at the primary health care level can reduce child mortality.

When a health care tool targets multiple diseases, patient care is improved and costs are reduced. PATH’s project supports this integrated approach, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Unitaid is funding a similar initiative, ALIMA’s AIRE project, to pilot pulse oximeters in four African countries.

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