Three Kenyans have been feted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as among the best 30 health innovators in Africa after their apps emerged top in a global challenge.
Prof Eunice Kamaara of Moi University, Dr Friday Njogu and Mr Geoffrey Omondi, a bio-statistician with Plan International, showcased their winning projects to Cape Verde President Jorge Fonseca and the WHO regional head for Africa Matshidiso Moeti at the bi-annual conference in Praia, Cape Verde.
The 30, seven of them from East Africa, were selected from over 2,471 entries in the first-ever WHO innovation challenge in just four weeks of opening.
The competition drew entries from 77 countries, 44 of which are African.
"A panel of independent evaluators assessed and profiled the innovations in terms of the potential for making impact as well as ability to be scaled up in a sustainable way. More than a third of the submissions came from women," said Dr Moeti. She pledged to support the projects grow.\
Ms Njogu, 37, and Mr Omondi, 30, showcased technological innovations that are aimed at strengthening the health system, particularly maternal and child safety.
"The problem we are solving is that most health managers in sub-Saharan Africa lack information or records on the quality of health service they give and therefore cannot make decisions as to which areas need improvement," said Ms Njogu, who is a public health specialist with experience in implementing HIV/Tuberculosis and maternal, newborn and child health programmes.
Her team conceptualised, designed and developed a platform called Afyakit that can house digital supervision tools in a health facility and provide analytics.
"Giving an example of the case where many infants died in a Kiambu hospital... if the hospital had installed Afyakit, they would have easily looked at the analytics to deduce the possible causes, whether lack of capacity to remove retained uterus or to administer antibiotics and so on," she said.
"Without a system of knowing these challenges, managers cannot make proper decisions or optimal supervision of health services and therefore lack actionable data. Resources are allocated without the benefit of correct information and this wastes time and money and affects service quality," Ms Njogu added.
Similarly, Mr Omondi's project, known as the Smart Paper Technology (SPT), allows for mother and child health data to be captured on paper by health workers and then scanned, digitised, and uploaded onto a hospital management system even without electricity connectivity.
"The innovation delivers all the benefits of electronic health record systems, and enables smooth implementation in clinics and areas without electricity, connectivity and security," he said.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Prof Kamaara's project titled African Character Initiation Programme (Acip) was in the social category and is focused on educating adolescents on self-awareness among other things.
He said unlike the past when indigenous African societies had elaborate rites of passage from childhood to adulthood, transition for social and character formation and identity, today identity and belonging are visibly riddled with various tensions associated with modernisation, leaving the young confused, lacking confidence and self-esteem as well as feelings of alienation.
"The results of this are youth vulnerability to high-risk behaviour manifested in high rates of HIV infection, pregnancies, alcoholism and drug abuse. In Kenya alone, the adolescent pregnancy rate is 18 percent, where the highest number of new HIV infections is among adolescents.
"Acip has been tested in a multitude of areas within Kenya, as well as Malawi and Nepal. Over the last 13 years, the programme has directly assisted over 2,000 boys and girls through workshops and camps and directly mentored over 1500 individual boys and girls," she said.
In the competition, Kenya and Nigeria tied with the highest number of best innovators having three each. Other countries had only one representative.
Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi also represented the EAC.