How a Ugandan techie developed a device to diagnose and monitor women's reproductive health

Each month, Thelela shares the story of one young African who is creating sustainable impact in his/her community through an entrepreneurial venture. This month is no different. Well, in more ways than others, it is.  This month, we’re sharing the story of our first female entrepreneur (yay! Girl power) which also happens to be our first health related story. Here it goes…

It all started in 2015 when Margaret Nanyombi (Maghi) was a university student at Makerere University in Uganda. A friend reached out to her for a loan to get medical tests done and find out what was making her unwell. This friend had tried self medicating but this had only worked for a few days before her illness returned. Fortunately, Maghi had some extra savings and offered to lend her friend the money. When she got to hospital, her friend was assigned a male doctor with whom she felt uncomfortable opening up to.

After taking the tests, her friend was diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis (BV) – a common infection caused by an overgrowth of normal germs (bacteria) in the vagina. Her friend received medication and this cleared up her infection. After listening to her friend’s experience, talking to other women on-and-off campus, and doing some desk top research, Maghi learned a few important things:

37% of women aged 18-24 years feel uncomfortable talking to their doctors about intimate health issues, especially if they are male. This leaves many women with limited options to deal with their reproductive health challenges, and it’s no surprise that many of them are embarassed to seek early medical attention whenever they are faced with a reproductive health problem.”
In many rural communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, families live at least five kilometers away from the nearest health center. Many women prefer to wait until their infections worsen to seek medical attention, and this leaves them vulnerable to preventable infections like BV which may make them susceptible to illnesses like cervial cancer if left untreated.
Most women prefer to self-test for minor infections at home and get off the counter medication instead of visiting a doctor where they will wait in long queues, and later pay expensive doctor consultation fees.

Introducing the BVKit

                                

                                

The BVKit is working to address these challenges. Through her tech startup HerHealth Uganda, Maghi is working with young Ugandan tech enthusiasts to innovate health tools that address healthcare needs in rural communities in developing countries. 

Here is Maghi explaining what the BVKit is and how it works.

Unknown to many, Maghi quit her job in 2015 to focus on developing the BVKit further. She believed the world was entering a technological era, and she wanted to actively lead that change in her community. One major challenge she faced then, and believes is common in many startups today is finding partners who share in the founders passion and are willing to see it through even when things get tough.

When she came up with the BVKit idea in 2015, she used her coding background, and her savings to buy tools and create a prototype. She brought onboard five ladies to improve upon her idea. Together, they entered their working prototype into the 2015 Uganda National Technovation Challenge and they won! Even though no cash prize was offered, this motivated the team at HerHealth Uganda to submit applications to competitions where they could win grant funding and even get expert support and mentorship.   

 

By the start of 2016 however, Maghi found herself working on the BVKit alone. What kept her going were the interactions she had with women in her community. They kept on motivating her to complete the BVKit, adding that it was going to benefit thousands of women in Uganda. A lot suddenly rode on her product becoming fully functional and successful. Out of despair arose a cause that was greater than Maghi. She worked tirelessly and also identified two people who shared in her passion to join her venture.

Before the close of 2016, BVKit had received the Youth Spark Innovation Grant (YSIG) from Resilient Africa Network (RAN): A USAID partnership with 18 universities across 13 African countries to strengthen the resilience of communities by nurturing and scaling innovations within the partner universities.

From left to right: Were Douglas, Margaret (Maghi) Nanyombi and Winfred Nafula – members of the HerHealth Uganda Team

The team also applied and received an invitation to attend the 2016 Blackbox Connect in Silicon Valley, California to showcase their product, and get a chance to access resources and mentorship. In the same year, the team participated in The Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN)’s Technical Convening (TechCon) 2016 which was co-hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

Maghi was invited to attend the Women Deliver 2016 Global Conference. Women Deliver is the worlds largest global conference on the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women in the last decade. At this Conference, BVKit was listed as one of the top 10 applications impacting women's health around the world.

We asked Maghi what future plans HerHealth Uganda has for BVKit and this is what she shared:

  • In a few weeks, she will be traveling to Chile to represent BVKit in a six month fully funded accelerator program by StartUp Chile - the leading accelerator in Latin America.
  • The team is also planning to participate in several key conferences, exhibitions, and medical outreach workshops to educate women about BV and how they will be able to identify it using the BVKit once it is officially launched.
  • A few months ago, Maghi participated in a 10 week design thinking class at Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Regional Leadership Center East Africa. The team is keen to implement learnings from Maghi's experience and engage potential users in developing the product for their long-term use. Our Founder and Principal, Julie Muriuki will be working with the team to improve upon its innovation and business model.
  • In the future, the team is keen to partner with doctors to recommend the BVKit to their patients. Achieving this goal will be a big success for HerHealth Uganda because patients will get first hand recommendations from their doctores - people they trust. With the BVKit, patients will also be able to get copies of their health records for proper diagnosis once they see a doctor.

Our meeting with Maghi ended on a high note. Here are some pretty cool facts about this super talented lady:

Photo 5.JPG

Maghi Nanyombi is the Google Developer Lead at Makerere University

She is also the Women Techmaker Lead at Makerere University

In her spare time, she enjoys conducting STEM trainings for young school girls

We wish Maghi and her team all the best, and we look forward to seeing BVKit's success soar to even greater heights. 

 

Till next month, 

Team Thelela