Monday May 21 2012

Taking local herbal medicine online

Taking local herbal medicine online

Anthony Mugabira explaining how his Davita Digital Herbal software works. He is still learning the ropes of software development at the university but the 23-year-old has already put what he has learnt to use. Photo by Ismail Kezaala 

By Mary Atuheire

Meeting Anthony Mugabira is evidence of the adage that age is but a number. At 23, he confirms that living the life you envision begins now-- when one goes after their dreams the time they conceive them and not wait for all things to first be in place in order to do so.

Mugabira is a third year student at Makerere University doing a Bachelors of Science in software engineering. He speaks with ambition of the things he hopes to do and achieve out of life. He owns a company called Mullegow Digital Technologies that deals in developing websites, software and web hosting and has developed many other software.

Birth of an idea
He decided to develop the software after an experience he went through that he reasons would have been easier if such a service existed and he thinks many would be helped through it.

“I got typhoid in first year, I had a terrible stomach ache that wasn’t getting any better even after seeking medical assistance. A friend called Davita got me some herbs and within two days, I was fine. I had been sick for about three weeks and was taking formal medicine which wasn’t yielding any results”.

Mugabira narrates that he had never used herbs in his life but he was so desperate and decided to try them. When the herbs worked with no side effects, it changed what he thought about herbal medicine before.

“I realised that herbal medicine isn’t something you go to a witch doctor to get. It is anything at home. It can be onions, tomatoes, leaves, anything. After this experience, I thought it would be good to have information on herbal remedies for various common ailments freely available to people. I didn’t know what to do exactly but was convinced I had to do something”.

Mugabira says he sought advice from his lecturer, Prof Dr Benjamin Kanago, about creating a web portal (website) that people could use to access information on herbal medicine for free. He wanted to create an interface between herbalists and herbal users. Where herbalists can submit and share information which people can use at no charge.

Mugabira was told to use PHP (hypertext processor) in order to be able to develop the software. He explains that PHP is a programming language that is used to add a dynamic element onto wed based systems.

Mugabira read a lot. “I was in first year and did not even know how to develop a website. I got 1 GB of e-books in PHP and checked out recommended sites on which I could get tutorials. I read and practised a lot. It took me around two months to develop the first web portal. It wasn’t so good but I was proud of it,” he brightly says.

Baby steps
He went ahead and put up a simple website around November 2010. He had the intention to give a free service but wanted to also make money out of it to be able to maintain it online. Mugabira asked a friend of his in Australia to get him space for hosting and he did. He then added ads from Google onto the website to help him raise money to buy his own server.

Through the ads, he managed to generate enough money to buy his own server after about four months of running. The server cost him around $10,000 (approximately Shs25m) with startup costs and taxes altogether. Mugabira notes that he chose to use Java programming language to develop the desktop/ offline version of the software because it is very portable and works on every machine or operating system.

After getting a server, Mugabira was able to host a number of other websites on it. The software has a desktop and online version. It is then that Mugabira and about four friends started a company called Mullegow Digital Technologies. The name is a combination of two of his friend’s names – Clive Mullet and Kim Glasgow.

“They are good friends of mine that live in Australia and facilitate me a lot. I started the company mainly because I didn’t want to do internship at any other company but my own. I wanted this in order to do all the practice I wanted. One thing I have seen is that the course work we do is different from what the market asks so we need to practice a lot. If I did internship somewhere else, it would be a short time of practice,” he explains.

The company started with a virtual server and they had to do a lot of marketing. “I used to move around town looking for companies to develop websites or host them at a subsidised price. When I found a good offer, I used it to get customers,” he tells.

The idea takes wing
November 2011 is when the software was officially launched, with the help of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology. “I talked to Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, who was the Minster at the time and he was impressed, with the idea. He asked me what I wanted the ministry to do and I told them I wanted them to attend my launch. The ministry took up the initiative and facilitated the launch which was held at the ministry office” he recalls.

The website has been a success because it has serious traffic. “I get between 30-80 new visitors daily. I thank the National Association of Traditional Healers and Herbalists who gave me information on different herbs to feed into the software. Over time, people have realised the importance of sharing information because many respond to it and contact them for more.

Other developments
Mugabira has developed a number of many other software like the educational e-learning system for secondary and primary schools, where schools can register and teachers get to post notes, tutorials, exercises, quizzes for students to do on-line, he also with his friends did developed the school management system which can manage school accounts, generate enrollment reports. One simply feeds information and it automatically computes and generates reports, compares records, gives statistics along with graphical representations of bar charts and pie charts.

Early life
Growing up, Mugabira wanted to become an industrial chemist and work in the army as a soldier because he honours sacrifice. His role model was Fred Rugyema, who taught him how to do whatever he does with passion. He later changed his mind after meeting friends at a school, where he was teaching during his Senior Six vacation, who introduced him to the world of computers.

“When Makerere advertised software engineering, they encouraged me to apply and said they would sponsor me. I now know that even if one is not working in the trenches, we are all contributing to the development of the country”.

In his spare time, Mugabira plays golf and cricket, and says he hopes to develop more systems that will change people’s lives and to concentrate on research and software development.

“I am not keen on making money but on making an impact on life,” he concludes.

How it works

- Davita software is downloadable and can be got from http://www.davita.mullegow.com. One can get both the desktop and on-line version
- It is a zipped file and when unzipped, it runs automatically on condition that one has java application installed.
- Type the ailment or name of herb you want to know about into the search space and will get information on it.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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