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App to Uberize care for expectant mothers developed by Ugandan youth

KAMPALA, Uganda – Imagine if, like using the Uber app to call a taxi cab exactly when needed, an expectant woman or new mother uses an app to locate a health-care worker when hers is not available. This would circumvent one of the biggest risks to the lives of women – lack of medical attention at exactly the time when it’s critically needed during pregnancy and birth.

Meet TEHECA, an innovative app developed by a team of young people in Uganda under the mentorship of UNFPA and partners, via UNFPA Uganda’s Up Accelerate project. The tool links expectant and new mothers with alternative health-care workers who then provide timely care.

In other words, it ‘Uberizes’ health care and solves the problem of unvailability of health-care workers.

To date the tool has reached more than 600 people through awareness campaigns, and is already supporting expectant mothers.

TEHECA is one of four innovative healthcare solutions developed by young entrepreneurs receiving mentorship from UNFPA’s Innovation Accelerator project, Up Accelerate. The innovative solutions are set to make waves on the market.

Stre@mline (also known as SNAP HMIS) is a web and mobile app (application) that helps health workers collect data on their clinical activities and displays it visually, to aid real-time decision making.

Already, the platform has been tested in two hospitals in Western Uganda, during which over 60,000 patient records have been gathered. The product has attracted interest from Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, which is considering piloting the system in another hospital in Western Uganda.

Drug Dash is being implemented in Bukedea district, which is one of the UNFPA-supported districts. This enables health centres to capture data on drug supply and consumption patterns and use the data to support decision making, including redistribution of supplies from overstocked to understocked facilities.

iDrain is an improved chest drainage systems that removes the pleural accumulation of patients (new mothers). iDrain seeks to solve the growing problem of using mineral water bottles in hospitals to drain pleural effusions.

All of these potential solutions to health-care challenges were developed and honed during a rigorous four-month period of mentorship, business training, technical guidance and product development.

At a demonstration ceremony attended by the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT, Vincent Bagire, three teams of young technology developers and entrepreneurs demonstrated their solutions to a panel of judges, potential investors and fellow innovators.

Everybody needs a mentor and that's what Up Accelerate has been to us. It has helped us think about all aspects of our business.

Of the four solutions, Stre@mline was chosen by the team of Up Accelerator judges (Engineers without Borders, Grofin Uganda and BitNetwork) as the most integrated and market ready.

The decision was received with enthusiasm by team member Samuel Mugisha: “As a team, winning is validation for us. It is also a challenge for us to make sure we deliver (on) what we say,” he said. “We have gained so much from the Up Accelerate programme. Everybody needs a mentor and that's what Up Accelerate has been to us. The programme has been very educative and has helped us think about all aspects of our business.”

Panellist Davide Piga, UNFPA ESARO’s Innovations and Knowledge Management Specialist, said at the event: “Investing in a healthier and more educated population and enabling young people to access opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship will provide young Ugandans with a favourable environment to thrive in business and private life, and to make informed and safe decisions regarding their sexual and reproductive health.”

Hitting the market

Following the demo event, the teams are expected to find markets and investors for their products.

“We now have the visibility and credibility that is vital for our product,” said Joseph Katetemera, a member of Stre@mline.

We have been trained on how to move from idea to solutions and right into the market.

“Through the Up Accelerate project we have made productive connections with people we would probably never have met on our own. We have been trained on how to move from idea to solutions and right into the market.”

Outbox and UNFPA will continue to support the teams through partnerships and mentorship after the programme. This could potentially enable them to raise funding and buyers for their products. 

Second cycle kicks off

With the three winning teams now ready to go to market, the second acceleration cycle has been launched. Four new start-ups were selected to receive mentorship, business development and technical training, and seed funding of up to $10,000 each for four months. This will support innovations that tackle sexual reproductive health challenges.

The selected start-ups include the following:

Blood Finder: Monitors in real time the amount of blood types stored at health facilities and locates the nearest available supply of a specific blood type, for quick referral of mothers in need of a blood transfusion. 

Health Data Harvester: A mobile app that aims to digitize the process of patient data collection at health facility level.

Eco Smart Pad: A low-cost sanitary towel made from sugarcane, for girls in rural communities. This will help improve menstrual hygiene.

mScan: A portable ultrasound scanner made of a smartphone and a probe for pregnant women in rural areas. This promises to help save the lives of mothers in rural areas where access to health services is limited.

The second acceleration cycle will run until September 2017.

By Charles Otine and Martha Songa