Celebrating digital health change makers: 4 Africans receive awards
Digital technologies now form an integral part of people’s daily lives, providing life-saving solutions and services to the populations of the world, particularly in the advanced countries. Many developing countries, especially those in Sub-Saharan Africa, are also catching up with the trend gradually.
The innovations that digital technologies have brought to the world had made it more profound the saying that the world is a global village. The reason is that the world has never been brought closer together than what digital technologies have done. There is now no barrier in connectivity throughout the world, making accessibility to essential services much easier.
Many sectors are now taking advantage of the opportunities that the digital space offers to improve their performance and presence across the globe. There is virtually no field that is not making use of digital tools or technologies.
Even though digital technologies have revolutionized the way many things are done in recent times, many have argued that its application to improve the health of people largely remains untapped.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), for instance, is harnessing the power of digital technologies and health innovations to accelerate the attainment of universal health coverage globally.
The untapped opportunities in the digital space therefore demands that all people learn how to adopt it so that they can maximize its benefits. What it means is that for people to make any meaningful use of digital technologies, they must first of all, have the ability to operate or use digital technologies.
Although the number of people using digital technologies still low in most developing countries, the usage is even worse among women in such countries.
That is why many organisations have instituted programmes to have many women and girls gain the needed skills to be able to take advantage of the digital space to advance their careers and personal development, especially in the areas of business and healthcare.
Apart from many women and girls excluded from access to training and education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), many also do not have access to education that promotes general digital literacy.
UNESCO, for instance, estimates that only 30 per cent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa receive STEM training and participate in the tech sector. Similarly, it adds, fewer girls than boys possess the critical digital skills needed to compete in the modern labour force.
The participation of women in the digital space is particularly important due to the market value of the female economy. According to McKinsey, the female economy is the world’s largest emerging market, with the potential to add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025. It, therefore, means that investing in digital skills and entrepreneurship training for African women translates into investing in economic growth and social impact at the community, country and continental level.
The reason is that digital skills is critical for the needed labour force for both the industrial and social sectors, including health and education.
Sadly, African women continue to face barriers to participating fully in the digital economy as creators and consumers of technology.
To bridge the digital literacy gap between men and women and leverage on that to promote healthcare delivery and services, UNESCO and the Women in Africa Initiative (WIA) are joining forces with partners from the public and private sector to develop a massive open online course to promote African women’s digital entrepreneurship and digital literacy in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Including women in the digital economy in Africa creates enormous opportunities for reducing inequality, achieving development and inclusive economic growth. Similarly, women’s inclusive participation in digital health is crucial to achieve SDG 3 and the health agenda of
That is why the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy has set a goal of digital inclusion, including digital health for every African by 2030.
However, to achieve this goal, concerted efforts must be made now to remove barriers for African women and girls to actively participate in the digital economy, create an enabling environment for technology-oriented entrepreneurship.
As part of efforts to help break the barriers limiting women’s access and participation in the digital space as well as to support health related SDGs and the Agenda 2063, has led to the formation of a movement following discussions between Africa CDC, Speak Up Africa and the Ministry of Health of Senegal.
Dubbed: “African Women in Digital Health (AWiDH)”, the movement seeks to address the digital gender gap through a multidisciplinary platform, bringing together stakeholders working on health issues to ensure effective collaboration and coordination action for women’s meaningful engagement and leadership in digital health.
The AWiDH movement was officially launched during the 2nd Annual International Conference on Public Health in Africa (CPHIA 2022), in December 2022 through a 60-minute panel session hosted by Speak Up Africa, under the leadership of African CDC with support from Amazon Web Services (AWS), Digital Health Network, IntraHealth, UNICEF, MOH Senegal, Path and Qhala.
The AWiDH movement will also ensure effective representation of women at all levels in the digital health space; increased consideration of women in digital health policies and strategies; increased number of women skilled in digital health at all levels of the health system; amplified voices of African women in digital health at all levels, and supported career development for African women in digital health.
Digital tech Awards
In furtherance to supporting young health entrepreneurs across Africa with the tools they need to advance promising healthcare innovations for the betterment of their communities, Speak Up Africa in collaboration with International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) held the second edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award in the month of October.
The Africa Young Innovators for Health Award is the flagship programme between IFPMA and Speak Up Africa which is focused on supporting young health entrepreneurs across Africa with the tools they need to advance promising healthcare innovations for the betterment of their communities. The initiative was launched in 2021.
The second edition, which was recently held sought to find and nurture health innovations that will help get the continent closer to the vision of Universal Health Coverage (UHC), using digital technologies to train health workers, connecting patients and healthcare providers, as well as creating new ways of raising health awareness and improving health literacy among others.
The second edition, which saw four distinguished health innovators receiving awards, had a 10-member jury, made up of esteemed personalities, including Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State of Senegal and Chair of the scientific committee for the Galien Forum Africa; Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Digital Health Advisor at the Africa CDC; Caroline Mbindyo, Amref Health Innovations, Amref Health Africa; Dr. Shakira Choonara, member of the AHAIC State of UHC in Africa Commission, and Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases at the World Health Organisation.
The rest were Philippe Guinot, Chief Technical Officer at IntraHealth; Dr. Karim Bendhaou, Head of Africa Bureau, Merck group and IFPMA Africa Engagement Committee; Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director, Speak up Africa; Dr. Magda Robalo, President and co-founder of Institute of Global Health and Development and Kelly Chibale, Founder of H3D Foundation, University of Cape Town.
The judges were also joined by a special jury member and first prize winner of the 1st edition of the award, Dr. Conrad Tankou, founder of Global Innovation and Creative Space (GIC Space).
The awards scheme was supported by Amref Health Africa; Forum Galien Afrique; IntraHealth International; Geneva Health Forum; Women in Global Health; Adams & Adams; Global Health Technologies Coalition; Organisation Africaine de la Propriété Intellectuelle; Maddyness, and ANA.
Mrs Teniola Aderonke Adedeji, a licensed Nigerian pharmacist with diverse experience in pharmacy and business shared the first-place position with Ugandan Paediatrician, M. Ochora Moses.
Teniola founded Pharmarun, which is focused on improving healthcare accessibility and effectiveness. This innovation makes accessing necessary medications convenient, saving both time and money. It aims to tackle treatment delays and adherence issues for over 600 million Africans, ultimately improving public health.
For his innovation, Photo-Kabada, Dr. M. Ochora Moses and his team introduced the phototherapy device that treats multiple babies at once with remote monitoring. The Photo-Kabada is highly efficient, eco-friendly, and offers comprehensive patient care with vital signs monitoring. The web-based dashboard allows remote monitoring, promoting efficient healthcare.
Similarly, the second place slot was shared by M. Abdullahi Muhammad Habibu, a Nigerian and Mrs Izath Nura, a Ugandan.
Muhammad Abdullahi is the founder of Queen Amina Medical Integration (Trash 4 Health Innovation), transforms plastic waste into essential medications for underserved communities.
The Trash 4 Health Innovation is a unique social enterprise that turns plastic waste into valuable resources for healthcare access. Through an exchange program, people swap plastic PET bottles for vital medications, particularly targeting patients with diseases like Diabetes and Hypertension who struggle to afford their treatments. Additionally, this initiative tackles plastic waste, reducing flooding and property damage during the rainy season.
For her innovation, Neosave Technologies Limited, Mrs Izath Nura developed Autothermo, a medical device to combat neonatal mortality caused by hypothermia, which affects over 17 million newborns each year.
Autothermo helps healthcare workers quickly identify and treat sick newborns, improving survival rates and reducing their workload. Neosave seeks a $50,000 investment to support this mission and align with Sustainable Development Goal 3 of reducing neonatal mortality by 2030.