Students innovate health solutions

Sunday September 16 2018

Education experts say, students who engage themselves in innovation, stand a better chance at jobs. Coutsery photo

The ailing health system in the country is everybody’s concern. Therefore different people are innovating interventions aimed at getting health services closer and easily to the people. At Mbarara University of Science and Technology for instance, youth are tasked to innovate ways of improving access to healthcare in their communities in a thematic hackathon.
This year’s hackathon was focusing on three thematic areas; community participation, health management system and information service delivery.
More than 290 young people including scientists, students, IT specialists, local health leaders and village health teams attended the event. The 6th Annual CAMTech (Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies Uganda), hackathon was themed; ‘Innovating to improve community health services to attain Universal Health Coverage’.
The three-day event engaged the different groups of people into an intense and brainstorming exercise that would see the winning team walk away with a prize of Shs3.5 million.

The need
Kristian Olson of CAMTech Massachusetts General Hospital said the platform is growing because people are increasingly getting passionate about innovation.

“This is the highest number of pitches we have ever had; from 17 previously to 41. We are learning together and sharing solutions that add value to the community,” he said.
Out of the 41 pitches, six finalists; the Virtual Health Team, Digital Speech Assistant, Breast-me-bag, Team Wash, Help Mothers Team, and MAAK Bulb emerged winners.
Data Santorino, the managing director of CAMTech Uganda, encouraged the innovators to keep trying. “You have to evaluate yourself and see why you did not make it to the top (learners),” he said, adding, “Innovation is a long journey that needs continuous support therefore, let us continue with what we have started on.”

Virtual health team
It comprised 10 members that created an official VHT App in order to scale-up training by spreading proven VHT-created solutions. According to Parker Maris, the team leader, corresponding with social media, groups will be used to further mobilise the VHT network. The App also provides education tools that VHTs can use to enhance their services in the communities. Also, the VHTs can obtain some motivation from donations listed and from the number of times it is downloaded.

Digital speech assistant
Four students that included Anita Kusaasira, Matthew Ocheng, Richard Okwii, Moses Openja and Nura Izath developed an application that can help health workers and deaf patients communicate without a third party. The App will have a data base of signs, sounds, and text.
The sign language used by a deaf patient is captured and processed in an information processing unit, the output is in form of a sound and text message to the health professionals and the sound from the health profession.

Sulaiman Wasukira, a student at Must, says a Breast-me-bag is a duo-system bag that preserves breast milk by cooling it to less than 10°C hence preventing microbial growth and maintaining nutrient content for more than 15 hours. At the same time, he says, it can heat water that can be used to warm the milk at feeding time.
The students hope this will be of use to breastfeeding mothers who are not available to breast feed all day and those who get breast milk engorgement at work but wish to express and keep the milk safe until they return home. “It can store one litre of breast milk and can be easily cleaned. The bag is portable and can be recharged using both solar and electric energy,” Wasukira says.


Helping mothers team
Emmanuel Kamuhire, design engineer at CAMTech Uganda, says, “The innovation supports pregnant mothers for a period of one year to cover antenatal, delivery and postnatal care for three months. It addresses challenges of discrimination based on needs and promotes a long-lasting impression of sustainability. This is intended to reduce pregnancy-related complications and maternal neonatal morbidity.”
They proposed to partner with telecoms to charge Shs1 per day from mobile phone users who load airtime using mobile money. This further translates into Shs30 million per month or Shs360m per year which after 5 years, will be enough capital to support a good number of pregnant mothers from inception to delivery and three months of postnatal care.

Team leader, Moses Ntaro said the tippy tape for hand washing facility is durable and affordable.

It is made out of metal bars and has a bell connected to the latrine door to remind the users to wash their hands on coming out.

All its parts can be detached and assembled again hence making it portable and movable from households, eating places and latrines. It will help prevent sanitation-related infections.

Edwin Nahabwe, a student at Must, says, “The MAAK-Bulb stands for (Mosquito Attracting and Killing Bulb). As the name sounds, this solar powered bulb attracts and kills mosquitoes where it has been installed alongside providing light. This bulb is needed to supplement the existing mosquito nets and indoor residual spraying. Our goal is to produce about 80,000 bulbs a year and reduce malaria deaths by more than 70 per cent.”
In addition to receiving prize money, CAMTech UGANDA, part of the Must centre for innovation and technology transfer, will offer all the teams an opportunity to compete for membership in the CAMTech Accelerator Programme (CAP). The CAP provides milestone-based funding, a CAP Coach, participation in the CAP Cohort, expert match-making and acceleration support.
Dr Susan Kiwanuka, a lecturer at Makerere University School of Public Health, called on students to think about making innovation to reduce on road accidents. “Innovate safety measures to reduce on road traffic accidents because they take off 15 per cent of the health budget and also deplete health supplies so fast at the facilities.

Uganda loses 10 people per day to road carnage; 45.7 out of 10,000 people, registering the highest number in East Africa and 6th globally.” “Henceforth, we need to look at the society in perspective, and find appropriate, scalable, timely and effective innovations,” Dr Kiwanuka advises.