Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mbarara University innovations near commercialisation

By Esther Nakkazi

In August, every year, I travel to Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST) to attend the annual Medtech Hack-a-thon. This year it was the second time and as always it was impressive.

At a Hack-a-thon there is both physical and virtual space to accommodate robust pipeline technologies. Hack-a-thons are a new way of coming up with innovations which offer healthcare solutions that are commercially viable.

Most of the participants at the MUST Hack-a-thon are usually students from the various Universities in Uganda. This time the Hack-a-thon was attended by over 220 participants from over 30 universities and organisations across Africa, North America and Asia. A total of 47 teams presented novel technologies that addressed critical health care problems.

The 2015 hack-a-thon awarded $3,000 USD (10.5 Million UGX) in prize money to winners. Others sponsored for the event were Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and Africell.

Events like Hack-a-thons ‘emancipate fear from young people who also become better thinkers,” said Professor Frederick Kayanja, the former Vice Chancellor, MUST.

He also recognised that innovations raise the profile of a University just as they are crucial to solving Africa’s problems because ‘the beneficiaries are all those who will be patients at one time or another’ which is all of us at some point.

Team MOSES or Mechanically Operated Suction and Evacuation System, a low-cost suction device used in medical facilities where electricity and traditional suction pumps are not reliable or readily available, won the first place and took $1,000 USD.

“Our win at the hack-a-thon was very unexpected but came as a direct result of he environment that CAMTech creates at their events,” said Bharadwaj Swarna, a member of the team MOSES.

“We were able to work with two doctors on our team who provided great mentorship and real-world insight. It’s all about the people that Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) brings together at each hack-a-thon that really creates value and helps us build great products.”

Team Vein Finder, a low-cost tool that uses infrared light to improve the visibility of veins and assists clinicians with treating infant cannulation was the first Runner-Up with $750 USD.

Team Medicare, an e-system that uses a mobile platform to enable patients needing emergency care to communicate quickly and effectively with nearby hospitals and that also provides health information to the general public was second and won $500 USD.

Team Haem, had an easy to use calibrated patient mat (mama mat) that helps to reduce the occurrence of maternal haemorrhaging and took home $250 USD.

“I am extremely impressed. For me this is the way to go. As a country we should connect innovation to industry to business,” said Julius Ecuru, the Assistant executive secretary at the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST).

This is where it all starts at a Hack-a-thon and to the co-creation lab, said Echuru.

At this Hack-a-thon we also learnt about the two innovations near to commercialisation at the in co-creation laboratory at the Mbarara University run by CAMTech Uganda which will improve health in Uganda and globally.

The locally hand sanitiser, the Sani drop and the Augmented Infant Resuscitator (AIR) are near to commercialisation. The AIR’s lead innovator, Dr. Data Santorino, also a lecturer at MUST and the head of CAMTech Uganda said the AIR is a game changer that will show the rate of breathing, situation of the seal, of the airway, not only of new borns but also has secondary uses like it can be used in an ambulance for patients who have breathing problems.

Dr. David Bangsberg, a professor at Harvard University who is also the director, Centre for Global Health at Mass General Hospital (MGH) said the AIR will not only solve a local health problem but has a big market in the US and Europe.

The hand sanitiser offers a solution for the hand washing problem also gives health workers in hospitals cleaner hands to keep them from getting bacteria and transferring them to mothers who have just delivered.

Hospitals could be places of healing but many bacteria enter the women’s body during delivery, the use of non-sterile instruments or unclean hands during dilation introduces bacteria into the body.

This causes postpartum sepsis sometimes referred to as blood poisoning are the sixth-leading cause of death among new mothers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). It is the second leading cause of maternal mortality in Uganda.

Dr. Data said the Sani drop hand sanitiser will not replace water and soap but for health workers who typically see one patient and have to walk across the room to wash their hands it is very helpful.

The Sani drop has the potential to kill 99 percent of germs and has the potential of keeping away hospital acquired infections, explained Dr. Data.

Different from other hand sanitisers on the Uganda market, its non sticky, does not make the hands dry, colourless and its smell disappears from the users’ hands in just 30 seconds. It does what all the others do kill germs.

Dr. Bangsberg said the team of innovators at Mbarara University and CAMTechMGH are now moving towards production and doing market research to find out the best price for it.

Both of these innovations, the AIR and the Sani drop, were conceived at Hack-a-thons which remains the spark. Here teams come up with solutions to global health problems, they develop a prototype with a business model to scale the products and present to judges.

I hope more higher institutions of learning in Uganda adopt this model.


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