Fighting Pneumonia: Breath Counter
Body category


Simple, durable respiration device detects potential fatal pneumonia in children

Detailed Description:
Solar-powered, guaranteeing constant availability (no batteries to run out) in remote areas of developing countries. Provides accurate results, can be used by anyone from professional doctors to illiterate local volunteers. Breath counts are measured at the press of a button, with the results displayed on an LCD screen. It stores a record of the count result and can set up follow-up tests. Breath Counter resolves the issues of inaccuracy and miscounting commonly encountered with other devices.

Known drawbacks of design:
The current available devices (e.g. ARI-timer) have some drawbacks like limited accuracy during use which influences the outcome and reliability of use over time. Other drawbacks are the use of batteries and difficulties in their replacement, limited time indication, single test possibility only, no or limited interface. We took these drawbacks as the starting point for developing an improved solution.


Designed in:

Status of realization:

communication, education, energy, health, knowledge, language, leadership, lifestyle, population, social, technology


The Breath Counter is a simple yet advanced respiratory monitoring digital device to support pneumonia classification procedure in underserved areas of developing countries. Aesthetically, the device looks like a medical tool to give the care giver a feeling of contribution to an important healthcare issue. It can be operated easily by pressing the top button to start the timer and pressing the center button to register each breath taken for one minute. An LCD screen shows three test results, making them easy to compare. Additionally, the device can also be used only as a 60-second timer if the caregiver chooses not to use the breath registration function. It is powered by solar cells rather than by disposable batteries. For those who cannot read, Philips Design created a simple manual with clear visuals that explain the procedure.

Timers currently used to facilitate the diagnosis of pneumonia in communities setting and primary healthcare facilities are often inaccurate and don't last long enough. In consultation with specialists from various organizations, including Save the Children and UNICEF, we developed a device which improves accuracy in measuring children’s respiratory rates by supporting breaths counting, digital registration of the results and their immediate comparison (minimizing in this way false classification). Also the reliability of the device has been improved thanks to the use of solar cells that assure continue performance, even in absence of battery. In addition, we managed to create a solution with a lower environmental footprint in terms of product longevity and by adopting a renewable energy source (solar energy) to power its usage. All this, by keeping economic affordability criteria in mind.

Pneumonia is the number one cause of death in children under five worldwide, killing an average of two million each year. In under-served areas of the world where there is a scarcity of suitable healthcare facilities, pneumonia is usually diagnosed by counting the number of breaths taken by the child in one minute, as those infected will have a much higher respiratory rate than healthy children. But despite the relative simplicity of detection, the current timing device used by local NGOs is too basic and often unreliable: the fact that it does not comprise a method of recording breath counts means that caregivers often forget the correct figures, which lead to poor diagnosis. Our device has been developed to save children's lives by supporting accurate pneumonia detection by caregivers with basic skills. It is designed specifically in response to the shortcomings of current pneumonia detection procedures, namely inaccuracy of counting breaths and short lifespan of the timer used.

Other relevant information
Philips Design has identified in pneumonia detection one of the healthcare issues to be addressed via its ‘Philanthropy by Design’ program. Supported by specialists from various aid organizations, we have created a design brief to address the need of caregivers working in remote communities setting. Current proposition has been developed thanks to valuable input from people with field experience and direct insights that we collected by the testing of the Breath Counter in Malawi.


Is the design protected by patent or ip registration?

How has the development of the design been financed hereunto?
Company development costs

Is there a plan for future investments?

Is there in-house competencies to secure market roll out of the design, with regards to investment, distribution, sales, etc.?


Designed by:
Stefano Marzano + Design Team

CEO & Chief Creative Director


Professional status of designer:
CEO & Chief Creative Director of Philips Design


City/Country of residence:
Eindhoven, The Netherlands

Name of company:
Philips Design

Manufactured/Produced/Commisioned by:
Philips Design