SEATTLE — Africa may not be what many people think of when they think about scientific innovation, but that may be about to change. Local scientists and engineers are creating new technologies that are winning awards and garnering attention. Spurred by a desire to help their communities, several innovators have used their scientific knowledge for positive entrepreneurship that helps save lives. Here is a look at the scientific future of Africa and how innovators are saving lives and helping their communities.
Medical Jacket That Detects Pneumonia an Example of the Scientific Future of Africa
In sub-Saharan Africa, pneumonia is one of the deadliest diseases young children can face. According to UNICEF, roughly 500,000 children under the age of 5 die from pneumonia every year on the continent. Part of the reason for this is because pneumonia is often diagnosed as another common disease, malaria. By the time doctors determine that the diagnosis is wrong, it is often too late.
Ugandan engineer Brian Turyabagye realized the seriousness of the issue when a friend’s grandmother was misdiagnosed and died as a result. The event moved him to develop a new way to diagnose pneumonia that eliminated human error. The result was a biomedical smart jacket named Mamaope, or “mother’s hope”, that can diagnose pneumonia up to four times faster than a doctor. Turyabagye’s invention caught the eye of Pitch@Palace Africa 2017, where African entrepreneurs can perfect their pitch and compete for the top prize. The jacket is only being used in select medical centers now, but Turyabagye is currently working on finalizing the jacket so that it can be ready for widespread use as soon as possible.
Cardiopad Brings Cardiovascular Care to Rural Africa
African inventor Arthur Zang saw firsthand the lack of healthcare available in rural areas of Cameroon from his home village. Specialists are rare in the country; it is estimated that only 60 cardiologists operate in Cameroon, and nearly all of them are in urban centers. Zang saw his uncle die from a cardiovascular disease at a young age, an event he cites as important to the genesis of Cardiopad.
Cardiopad is a touchscreen device that allows untrained people to perform cardiovascular tests on a patient and then send the results to a specialist in the city, greatly improving access to healthcare in rural areas. This invention is sorely needed, since cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death among people over 30 in sub-Saharan Africa.
Zang used the funding he received from his 2014 Rolex Award for Enterprise to bring the product out of the prototype phase and begin production. Now, he hopes that the use of the Cardiopad will spread to neighboring countries so that it can start saving lives all over Africa.
Using Technology to Make Maternal Healthcare More Accessible
Engineer Alain Nteff is using his skills to make maternal healthcare more accessible to rural communities through a mobile health platform he calls Gifted Mom. This invention aims to provide low-cost advice and analysis to prospective mothers through text messages. All mothers have to do is text “MOM” to a number and pay a one-time $1 fee to receive maternal advice for life. This includes being able to text a medical question to the number and receive an answer from a doctor.
This is an important issue in sub-Saharan Africa. In Cameroon, where Alain is from, 13.9 percent of female deaths are related to pregnancy. Africa’s maternal mortality rate is 500 deaths per 100,000 live births, meaning that one in every 200 mothers do not survive childbirth.
Alain’s ingenuity has caught the attention of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action, a group backed by the U.N. and USAID that aims to provide information to expecting and new mothers about maternal aid through their mobile phones. He was also awarded with a $25,000 grant for winning the Anzisha Prize, an award celebrating African entrepreneurs who have helped their communities.
Investing in the scientific future of Africa is important for improving both local economies and the overall quality of life. Science education not only helps students succeed in an academic setting, but also in building new inventions that help their communities. Organizations are already supporting entrepreneurship in Africa, but for innovation to come, science needs to be there first. With their help, and the help of organizations like them, young scientists in Africa have a bright future ahead of them.
– Jonathon Ayers