Thursday, November 27, 2014

Africa Data Challenge

The Planet Earth Institute (PEI) (, an international NGO that works for the scientific independence of Africa, held its first-ever ‘Africa Data Challenge’, as part of their #ScienceAfrica UnConference, held at Impact HUB, Westminster on November 18.

The ‘Africa Data Challenge’ had parties pitch their ideas for projects that harness data for real, human impact in Africa. Innovators from around the world pitched their ideas for projects that can help translate and transmit the power of data to those on the continent.

In a press release prior to the challenge Dr Álvaro Sobrinho, Chairman of the Planet Earth Institute, said: “Data holds a huge amount of promise for scientific development in Africa, and for many different business sectors too, but we haven’t yet fully explored how it can be used at a local level to improve lives."

"As an NGO we are always looking for practical ways to support science and technology, and this Africa Data Challenge will help do just that – developing and incubating new ideas with real impact."

Projects were unlimited in scope and focus, but designed to have a practical, human application in the next 12 months. Contestants presented to a live panel of judges and the successful innovators will be rewarded with a cash prize of £7,000 and receive PEI’s support to roll out their project.

The ‘Africa Data Challenge’ forms part of the PEI’s second #ScienceAfrica UnConference, which is hosted by Rt Hon Lord Boateng and run in partnership with UN Economic Commission for Africa, the World Bank and the European Commission.

The UnConference brought together over 120 people passionate about and working in science, development and Africa for an interactive day of workshops and discussions.

Participants come from diverse sectors, including international policy makers, academics, students as well as the general public. The UnConference will also be live streamed on the PEI website and people are encouraged to use the #ScienceAfrica hashtag on Twitter to engage in a robust discussion about science, technology and innovation in Africa.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Health Innovation: Automated Medical Equipment could save many lives

By Esther Nakkazi

Christine Nabbanja is a twenty-two year old, fourth year, biomedical engineering student at Makerere University. She is also part of a group of five innovative students, teamed up to offer global health solutions to the world.

Their innovation is an automatic switch for an electrical suction pump. Suctions are used to clear the airway of blood, saliva, vomit or other secretions so that a patient can breathe during respiratory failure or surgery.

In Uganda’s health systems, the problem is immense as they represent at least 25 percent of all failed equipment in hospitals. Although they can be switched off, when health workers are using them, they tend to forget and the system clogs, delaying the job at hand and threatening the life of the patient.

Others on the team were Brian Nkwanga Senabulya the team leader, Andrew Nyorigo, Patrick Ssonko and Engineer Johnes Obonguloch the Principal Investigator.

So the team of five came up with a solution, to add on an automatic switch to the suction pump, so that when the bottle fills with fluids, it automatically switches off, says Nabbanja who is attending the second Hack-a-thon at Mbarara University of Science and Technology 22-24 August 2014.

It was organised by the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) Uganda and Mbarara University in partnership with Mass General Hospital’s Centre for Global Health. Other participating groups were the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard Medical School and Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) in India.

It was my first time to attend a Hack-a-thon and I was really impressed. But I also ask what next?

Mbarara University 2014 Hack-a-thon cake
A Hack-a-thon enables teams made up of engineers, entrepreneurs, professors, clinicians to come up with innovations in just 24 hours that impact on global health to save millions of lives. What happens is teams pitch ideas to a group of judges. These are ideated and turned into prototypes and are again presented with business models that have the potential to transform health outcomes around the world.

To date, over 1,000 innovators have participated in CAM Tech hack-a-thons across Uganda, India and the United States and they have spawned many new technologies addressing different health problems.

Nabbanja and her team conceived the automated suction pump idea during the first Hack-a-thon held at Mbarara University last year. It won the second position and the first prototype has already been developed using the seed funding awarded to them.

The Pro-creation lab opened at Mbarara University 
Professor Fredrick Kayanja, the Vice Chancellor, Mbarara University says it is a practical innovation needed locally that could change hospitals and the way health workers work and save many lives.

He is also glad that it was hatched at a Hack-a-thon, which helps young people become better thinkers and emancipates fear from them.

For students ‘it changes the mindset about their education. People who did not think they were innovators become innovators,’ explains the director CAMTech, Elizabeth Bailey. And entrepreneurship skills are learnt because teams create viable business plans, she added.

“In this game, failure is totally acceptable. It also offers a neutral space where people do not fear failure,” says Bailey.

Kristian Olson the Medical Director of CAMTech, and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School says human resource is a limiting factor in resource limited settings.

Prof Kayanja and Prof Bangsberg
He explains that this is not a unique problem and agrees that the automated suction pump innovation by the students is a good idea. “Empowerment is transitional. The fact is that there is so much drive and to see that young people want to solve their own problems is intangible.”

Although the Hack-a-thons started only last year in Uganda and at Mbarara University, Dr. Data Santorino, a lecturer at Mbarara University and country director CAMTech says the idea is picking up.

At least 200 clinicians, engineers, entrepreneurs and end users participated in 2014 up from 150 last year, 29 from 23 projects were presented and at least 70 pitches of innovative ideas were made to judges by individual students.

More university students are attending and more local companies are getting interested to sponsor the event, says Santorino as he promotes strategic partnerships to improve global health. "Innovation is not a one person affair. As African innovators we need partnerships that support our weak areas. There is so much we can contribute to Global Health.

“At a Hack-a-thon ideas are from the bottom to the top of the pyramid through a chain to commercialisation,” says Dr. David Bangsberg, the Director at Mass General Hospital (MGH)’s Centre for Global Health. His challenge is to find more cooperate partners to pick them up and commercialise them.

“My dream is to see an ecosystem where an innovator can take an idea, find the right expertise to ideate it, test it, move it with small seed capital, scale it with cooperate sponsorship,” says Bangsberg.

But that is not all. “With technology it is different,” says Nabbanja. “When an innovation comes from Uganda, even us Ugandan we do not trust it. It is as if it should have the face of a white person to be trusted.”

Friday, November 14, 2014

Call for Proposals for £4m Research in non-communicable diseases in Africa

By Esther Nakkazi

GSK has launched a £4m call for proposals for scientific research into non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa. The first funding round, will support successful proposals from researchers in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Ghana, The Gambia, Nigeria, Kenya,Uganda and Malawi.

The proposals will be through GSK's Africa NCD Open Lab, established by GSK earlier this year, with a commitment of £25m funding over five years, as part of a series of strategic investments in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Mike Strange, Interim Head of the Africa NCD Open Lab, said: “We believe the highly collaborative research network we’re creating through the Africa NCD Open Lab has the potential to dramatically improve understanding of NCDs in Africa – and could ultimately, accelerate the development of new, better medicines to treat these.

“The launch of our first call for proposals is an important milestone for this initiative, and we encourage researchers working in the field of NCDs who are based in the eight eligible countries to consider applying for the funding and expert support available to them through this.”

NCDs including cancer and diabetes, are becoming more prevalent, across the developing world, and more research is needed to understand more about how – and why – these diseases manifest differently in this setting.

The Africa NCD Open Lab aims to address this through the creation of an innovative research network that will see GSK scientists collaborate with researchers across Africa on high quality epidemiological, genetic and interventional research, from its hub at GSK’s Stevenage R&D facility in the UK.

It will specifically inform interventions for the prevention and treatment of five priority diseases - cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and chronic respiratory disease – while helping build local expertise and creating a new generation of African NCD experts.

An independent external advisory group, comprising clinical and scientific experts in the field of NCDs, will review applications to the NCD Open Lab, with recommendations for funding based on scientific merit. The group will consist of a majority African membership to ensure that only locally-relevant research is funded.

A second call for proposals in South Africa is planned for early in 2015 which will be launched in collaboration with the Medical Research Councils of South Africa and the UK, with a combined £5m funding.
For more information, or to submit a research idea for consideration, please visit

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

WHO declares Uganda Marburg Free


Hon. Sarah Achieng Opendi
Minister of State for Health – Primary Health Care
P. O. BOX 7272,

Press Statement

Today, the Ministry of Health wishes to inform the Public that the country is officially declared free of the Marburg Virus Epidemic. The declaration comes after completion of 42 days of the Post Marburg Surveillance countdown period which is a prerequisite of the World Health Organization (WHO) requiring any affected country to monitor the situation of any Viral Hemorrhagic Fever for that period before finally declaring an end to the outbreak.

The outbreak of the epidemic was declared on October 4th 2014 following laboratory tests done at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) which confirmed that one person, a health worker, had died of the viral hemorrhagic fever.

The index case was a 30-year-old male Radiographer, who originally was working in Mpigi Health Centre IV, Mpigi Town Council but had been recruited by Mengo Hospital two months before his death on September 28th 2014 at Mengo Hospital.

The Ministry of Health informs the general public that since then, there have been no Marburg cases reported in the country. This implies that the Marburg outbreak in the country has completely been controlled. Marburg is a highly infectious viral hemorrhagic fever that is spread through direct contact with, body fluids like blood, saliva, vomitus, stool and urine of an infected person. A person suffering from Marburg presents with sudden onset of high fever with any of the following; headache, vomiting blood, joint and muscle pains and bleeding through the body openings like the eyes, nose, gums, ears, anus and the skin.

From 4th October 2014 when the outbreak of Marburg was declared, the National Task Force on epidemics took up the coordination of all interventions geared towards combating the epidemic.

Additionally, the district taskforces of Kasese, Mpigi and Ibanda were alerted to trace all people who could have got into contact with the confirmed case. Consequently four isolation centers were set at; Mulago National Referral Hospital, the National Isolation Centre in Entebbe, Mpigi Health Centre IV and in Kagando Hospital in Kasese.

During the period of the outbreak, a total of 197 people were followed up for three weeks in Kampala, Mpigi and Kasese districts. These are people who got into contact with the confirmed case either during his sickness or after death. During this time, eight of these contacts developed symptoms similar to those of Marburg. However, their results tested negative for the Viral Hemorrhagic Fever at the Uganda Virus Research Institute.

A total of 13 samples were also collected from different parts of the country (Ibanda, Lira, Kitgum, Jinja, Gulu, Luwero and Kampala ) as part of a wider surveillance network during the period. On a good note however, they all tested negative for the Marburg virus.

By 20th November, all the contacts had completed their 21 days of monitoring and apart from the 8 who required laboratory investigation and tested negative; the rest did not develop symptoms which confirms that none contracted the virus. An additional 21 days of surveillance was carried out to make 42 days as a requirement for management and control of viral Haemorrhagic fevers.

The Ministry of Health urges the public to reduce the risk of wildlife-to-human transmission by avoiding contact with fruit bats, reduce the risk of human-to-human transmission in the community in-case of suspected cases reported by avoiding direct or close contact with suspected patients.

We urge the Healthworkers to wear gloves and appropriate personal protective equipment when taking care of ill patients.

The public is also urged to embrace regular hand washing after visiting patients in hospital, before eating and after using the toilets, to avoid infections.

Finally, the Ministry of Health recognizes the contribution of the different development partners for their support during the outbreak. Special recognition goes to the World Health Organization, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Medicens San Frontiers, UNICEF, USAID (Communication for Healthy Communities), Airtel Uganda, Uganda Red Cross Society, World Vision Uganda, AFENET and the Media.

The Ministry of Health further acknowledges the efforts and contribution of Kampala Capital City Authority towards the control of this out break.

Lastly, the Government of Uganda once again reassures the general public that it is committed to protecting the population by ensuring that all measures are in place for early detection and immediate response to all Viral Haemorrhagic fever out breaks.

Uganda based Health Organization Selected by Canada to Save the Lives of Women and Children

Press Release 
Nairobi, Kenya, November 7, 2014 – The seven-year, CA$36 million Innovating for Maternal and Child Health in Africa (IMCHA) research program today announced the selection of health organizations based in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burkina Faso that will help put research into practice and bring the program’s results to the attention of decision-makers.

The IMCHA program was launched in May 2014 by Canada’s Minister of Health, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, on behalf of the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie. It is a joint initiative of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC).

“Thanks to Canadian leadership and collective global action through the 2010 G8 Muskoka Initiative, we are seeing tangible results for the world’s women and children: fewer mothers are dying, more children are celebrating their fifth birthday, and women and children around the world have better access to quality healthcare,” said the Honourable Christian Paradis, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie. “Canada is building on these results with a $3.5 billion commitment from 2015 to 2020. Supporting research initiatives like this one is key to finding the innovative solutions we need to end the preventable deaths of mothers, newborns and children and ensure that our programs reach those most in need.”

IMCHA is investing in scientific breakthroughs in primary health care to improve the health of women, newborns, and children in sub-Saharan Africa. It will fund approximately 20 research teams.

The selected organizations are: A consortium, which includes the Kenya based African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC); Tanzania- based East, Central and Southern Africa Health Community (ECSA-HC); and Uganda based Partners in Population and Development (PPD)

The West African Health Organization (WAHO), a specialized institution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

These organizations will bridge the gap between the research teams and decision-makers in Africa, helping to ensure that research findings are taken up into policy and that health interventions are evidence-based and effective.

“This is an important step forward in turning research into action in sub-Saharan Africa,” says Alain Beaudet, President of CIHR. “By reaching out to decision-makers, these organizations will help innovations in health care be implemented so that the lives of women, children, and newborns can be saved.”

Maternal, newborn, and child health is Canada’s top development priority. Half of the world’s maternal, newborn, and child deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Most of these deaths can be prevented by strengthening health systems on the frontlines, where primary health care is provided.

According to Dr. Alex Ezeh, APHRC’s Executive Director, "Current research shows the value of investing in a holistic approach to maternal and child health issues through public-private partnerships, reinforcing the capacity of health workers closest to mothers and children, finding innovative ways of reaching vulnerable groups, and strengthening health governance at all levels. Moving forward, getting this evidence to drive policy decisions and programmatic actions will make all the difference."

“This made-in-Canada collaboration brings leading Canadian researchers together with their colleagues in the developing world to improve the lives of women and children,” said IDRC President Jean Lebel. “The program will make health systems stronger and more accessible in the area of frontline primary health care, where it is needed most.”

Research on pressing health issues to improve the lives of mothers, newborns, and children will focus on nine sub-Saharan African countries targeted in the Muskoka Initiative: Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, and Tanzania.

Media Enquiries:
Gloria Lihemo
Communications and Public Affairs Officer, International Development Research Centre
Regional Office for sub-Saharan Africa / /+254 727 903 983/ 

Bibiana Iraqi
Communications Officer, the African Population and Health Research Center / +254 702 643 448 / 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Uganda Hosts African Science Academies Meeting

Press Release:

African Science Academies are in Uganda to Discuss Country Ownership of the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The meeting also Marks Culmination of 10-Year Initiative.

KAMPALA, Uganda – The 10th Annual Meeting of African Science Academies, hosted by the Uganda National Academy of Sciences, began today. The three-day conference’s agenda focuses on country ownership of Africa’s development in the post-2015 era.

The meeting also marks the culmination of the 10-year African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), a partnership of the U.S. National Academies and several counterparts in Africa aimed at strengthening the capacity of the African academies to inform policymaking through evidence-based advice. The number of national science academies in Africa has more than doubled since the initiative began.

“It is an honor to host the annual meeting of African science academies and provide a forum for our colleagues and other distinguished experts to discuss how Africa can control its own destiny by taking greater ownership of our continent’s development agenda,” said Nelson Sewankambo, president of the Uganda National Academy of Sciences. “The meeting also gives us the opportunity to discuss how African science academies can carry forward the momentum gained during ASADI to further establish ourselves as trusted sources of independent advice on science, technology, and health policy matters.”

The conference began with the release of a new report from several African science academies titled “Mindset Shifts for Ownership of Our Continent’s Development Agenda,” which recommends several catalysts for giving all sectors of society a greater stake in and shared responsibility for development goals. It describes how five levers -- communities, institutions, education, health, and capital -- all have a role to play in stimulating broader societal ownership of development agendas such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the U.N.’s planned Sustainable Development Goals, which will build upon the Millennium Development Goals that expire in 2015.

The InterAcademy Council, a multinational organization of the world’s science academies, also released a report at the conference titled “Enhancing the Capacity of African Science Academies: The Final Evaluation of ASADI.” The panel that authored the report concluded that ASADI succeeded in meeting its objective to increase the African academies’ capacity to be effective sources of evidence-based advice, thus allowing them to occupy a unique civic space in their respective societies. The report also draws on lessons learned during ASADI to make recommendations about the future shape of science academies in Africa.

“We are pleased that our collaboration has resulted in African science academies being increasingly well-positioned to offer authoritative advice to their respective governments,” said Enriqueta Bond, chair of the ASADI board and president emeritus of the Burroughs-Wellcome Fund. “African science academies also are well-positioned now to engage at the international level to help address the many global challenges facing the world. We hope the impact of ASADI will last for many years to come.”

The national science academies of Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda, and the regional African Academy of Sciences are partners with the U.S. National Academies under ASADI, which is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The U.S. National Academies are made up of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council.

The Network of African Science Academies also helped organize this year’s annual meeting. More information about the conference including an agenda and copy of the African academies’ report on country ownership can be found and The InterAcademy Council report is available at


Ann Nsubuga 
AMASA 10 Coordinator
Uganda National Academy of Sciences
tel. +256 414-533044 or +256 705-409-416 (mobile)

William Kearney
Director of Media Relations
U.S. National Academy of Sciences
tel. +1 202-334-2144 or +1 202-450-9166 (mobile)

Tom Arrison
Executive Director
InterAcademy Council