As Ukraine’s healthcare system grapples with the effects of the war, its cardiologists are receiving a helping hand from an unlikely source: St. John’s-based Sparrow Bioacoustics.

Led by CEO Mark Attila Opauzsky, Sparrow has been piloting its Stethophone app with a group of Ukrainian cardiology clinics since last year. And earlier this month, Stethophone was used by doctors from non-profit FRIDA Ukraine during a two-day aid trip to the contested Sumy Oblast region.

The app was recently approved by U.S. regulators as a Class II medical device, similar to products like blood pressure cuffs. In Ukraine, it has so far been used mainly by doctors, but Opauzsky said in an interview he expects his 38-person staff will roll it out for private citizens in May and June.

“We were trying to decide where we would start to release the product first, and we wanted to do some good right away,” he said. “We also wanted a group that we could pilot with, and so we went through the Ukrainian health authority approval process over a year ago.

“It’s a country that is sophisticated. It has an extremely high ratio of doctors to people, it has a very high rate of cardiovascular disease, and because of the disruptions, people aren’t able to get to the doctor’s. People aren’t getting diagnosed early enough.”

According to the European Society of Cardiology, 772 out of every 100,000 Ukrainian men and 440 out of every 100,000 women were dying of cardiovascular disease even before the Russian invasion. Those rates are more than triple Canada’s.

And the World Health Organization has found that in the past two years, the Ukrainian health system has grappled with major service disruptions, especially in the regions where the fighting has been heaviest.

“In some cases, we were finding things that nobody knew they had,” said Opauzsky. “So brand new pathologies were being discovered."

He added the company will soon move into "the next phase, where we’re going to be really trying to push it out more into the public itself, in particular to individuals who have been displaced or haven’t had a chance to get to the doctor in a while.”

Stethophone uses a combination of a device’s microphone and software processing to amplify relevant audio. Its purpose is to offer patients a way to self-monitor and document their symptoms in detail, for later analysis by a physician.

The process is possible thanks to the sophisticated microphones found in modern iPhones and most mid- to high-end Android devices. And because many manufacturers source parts from the same suppliers, Opauzsky said there is significant standardization across brands. If the quality of a recording is poor, Stethophone will prompt the user to collect more audio, and if the quality of the microphone is completely untenable, the system will warn its user.

“We’ve benchmarked it against the gold standard digital stethoscopes and similar tools,” he said. “And in every case, we’ve come out either as good or in some cases better, in terms of what the doctor can actually hear when they hold the phone to someone’s chest.”