From Nairobi to Berlin: Young hackers for Global Health

Three Kenyan teams present their e-health proposals to the International German Forum on 21/22 February 2017

Discussing e-health ideas in Nairobi

Three interdisciplinary teams of young professionals from Nairobi will present their e-health projects for health promotion and disease prevention for young people in Kenya to the International German Forum in Berlin on 21/22 February 2017. What happens when Kenyan hackers meet German IT experts and business leaders?

"Our vision is to help providing affordable health care to people in Kenya and around the world!" says Ethredah Chao, a member of the team "Dev-Ops" from Kenya. Dev-Ops and two other teams of young Kenyan professionals have come to Germany to take part in the 3rd International German Forum (IDF) in Berlin on 21st and 22nd February 2017. This year the Forum’s main topic is “Global Health and Innovation”. Around 120 German and international experts from the spheres of politics, business, academia and civil society will jointly explore innovative e-health solutions and engage in network building and knowledge exchange.

A 72-hour hackathon in Nairobi

For the three teams from Kenya, this is an opportunity to demonstrate the potential of the e-health solutions they devised for health promotion and disease prevention amongst young people in Kenya. In November 2016 they took part in a hackathon initiated by Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ): For 72 hours nine experienced mentors supported 50 young IT and health professionals in 11 interdisciplinary teams in their search for practice-oriented ideas. At the end, the three teams with the best ideas were invited to Germany to showcase their proposals at the 3rd International German Forum in Berlin.

Kenyan hackers meet German IT innovators, business leaders and youth advocates

The hackathon teams

In Berlin, an interesting study tour has been prepared for the young experts. It began with the Demo Day of the Startbootcamp Digital Health Demo Day Berlin, where the teams watched German IT innovators pitch their digital health proposals. At the Charité, their schedule includes meetings with Prof. Titus Kühne, an expert on e-health in development policy, and visits of the Charité’s maternity and its clinic for victims of violence.

Representatives of the German-African Business Association and of the pharmaceutical companies Bayer and Merck invited the young Kenyan talents to their offices to discuss their suggestions potential for future cooperation, for example via Merck’s accelerator programme for promising business startups. To round off the programme, youth advocacy experts of Save the Children Germany will meet with them to exchange on their work for young people in Kenya.

Three e-health solutions with potential

With all these inputs in mind, and following intensive hacking sessions at Berlin’s Impact Hub , the three teams stand ready to present the following e-health ideas:

  1. An app-based micro health insurance scheme
    In Kenya, the method of collective saving in village- or family groups is still widespread, as the team describes. At the same time, people in rural areas are often not covered by health insurance and often face catastrophic expenses when family members fall ill. The idea of the team is to build on rural Kenyan’s familiarity with group-saving schemes to build a micro health insurance platform to which members can make payments though M-PESA, a mobile phone based money transfer service.
  2. A platform allowing young Kenyan’s to learn about ‘taboo’ topics
    Kenyan society is quite conservative when it comes to giving young people the information they need in relation to their sexual and reproductive health and rights. The team is suggesting to create a digital platform which young users can access via an app or text messaging. On the platform, young people would find comprehensive information on their questions, in a language that they can understand. In addition, experts in adolescent health and mental health professionals would be involved to provide mentoring and personal advice to young people with more specific questions or problems.
  3. A messaging service to ensure early referrals of pregnant mothers to skilled health care
    In rural Kenya, many pregnant women continue to use untrained traditional birth attendants instead of attending skilled antenatal healthcare services. This is why pregnancy-related complications often go unnoticed, with serious, sometimes fatal consequences for the mother, the unborn child, or both. The team suggests to improve the timely referral of all pregnant mothers to skilled health care providers by connecting traditional birth attendants, skilled healthcare providers and pregnant mothers through a digital messaging service, which could be both app- and SMS-based. The service could be used for early referrals of new pregnancies but also for the provision of basic health information to expecting mothers and traditional birth attendants.

At the International German forum, an expert jury including representatives of the Charité, the German Healthcare Partnership, Germany’s Federal Ministry of Health and its Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development will select the most promising of these three proposals. And what will happen next?

Time to invest in Digital Africa

With its Strategic Partnership for a Digital Africa, the BMZ recognizes that new technologies and innovative solutions will determine the future of Europe’s neighbouring continent, Africa. In this context, it launched the Make-IT Alliance, an initiative for supporting technology start-ups in developing countries together with businesses, associations and social enterprises. Thomas Silberhorn, Parliamentary State Secretary for the BMZ, sums it up: “We want to nurture innovative young businesses in developing countries, and are looking for strong partners for this purpose. This alliance benefits all concerned, since it unites practical knowledge and experience and promotes global and regional networking.”

The winning team from Kenya will be one of the beneficiaries of the Make-IT initiative. While they will be given the chance to connect with and learn from the experience of established global businesses and their support programmes, the young innovators’ spirit will contribute to Kenya’s economic development and potentially become a gateway to new markets for international enterprises.

As the date of the International German Forum approaches, the tension is mounting amongst the three Kenyan teams. But the spirits are high: “Whether we’ll come in first, second or third – this has been an amazing experience” says a member of team IRIS: “Thank you, Germany!”

February 2017

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