Tech start-up entrepreneur aims to track women’s health in Uganda
Submitted by Margaret Nanyombi, founder & CEO at HerHealth/BVKit Uganda, a company that focuses on innovation on health tools for women. This blog is part of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative’s #STEMtheGap series, focussing on women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
While growing I was raised by a single mother who worked at a Post Office, her work environment exposed me to computers and the internet and with that exposure, I developed a passion for Information Technology.
Our education system in Uganda poses quite a challenge as the curriculum set up is too theoretical and doesn’t give students a chance to fully engage in STEM in practice so many students lose interest in the STEM subjects quickly. Worse still, STEM is seen as a man’s field to many people and with few female role models, limited access to knowledge on STEM and other related fields plus limited support from the education ecosystem, there is little to no knowledge about the opportunities available for women in technology for women and girls to aspire to. Many girls around ages 11-14 start to doubt their confidence in STEM, in my experience this could be because of those ideas of gender roles in Ugandan society, pressures from parents or teachers, and again the lack of female role models or lack of knowledge about STEM fields.
Although girls in Uganda, particularly in the capital, are avid users of new technologies it is still the case that girls continue to be significantly underrepresented in technical occupations.
As a woman in technology in Uganda, with a chance to have a good education in STEM, my personal goal is to contribute towards the sustainability developments goals (SDGs) with focus on goal 4: Quality Education and goal 5: Gender Equality to empower girls and women though the different technology communities am a part of.
My real passion project is the HerHealth/BVKit. While at Makerere University, four female students and myself formed a gorup of girls who code and program called ‘Team Code Gurus’. Under Team Code Gurus our aim was to contribute our STEM skills to advance women in STEM and also create solutions for Uganda’s challenged – and so our first project was the development of a remote women’s health diagnostics kit and smartphone app which is the HerHealth/BVKit.
The app uses hardware that connects to the smartphone app via Bluetooth. By placing a urine or vaginal discharge sample onto the kit, PH values can be sent to the application. The app then interprets whether the user has healthy or unhealthy amounts of vaginal bacteria. If there are unhealthy levels of bacteria present, the application recommends that the user seeks medical attention and indicates where their nearest doctor or clinic is.
The HerHealth/BVKit - a self-test diagnosis to enable women to monitor their health at home. In many communities in Sub-Saharan Africa people stay even 5km away from their nearest health centers and because of accessible and affordability issues many prefer to wait until their illnesses worsen to seek medical attention. This makes communities vulnerable to the preventable infections, which is what motivated our team to came up with the Kit to reduce on the rate of late diagnosis in our communities. At this stage, we have carried ethnography studies in Mukono district in Uganda, an area with high prevalence of women’s reproductive health infections and diseases.
With exposure on both and international platforms, the HerHealth/BVKit tool has been well received. We were honored to be one of the Youth Spark Innovation Grantees in August 2016, under ResilientAfrica Network and have also showcased our works at 3rd OCHEA, Women Deliver Conference 2016, Innovation Marketplace Techcon 2016. We were also accepted into the Blackbox Accelerator program and have got feedback and positive criticism and are addressing the learnings to our third prototype. Now that we have been accepted into the Start-Up Chile Accelerator we hope to be able to be ready to launch the app on the market late 2018.
Our goal at Team Code Gurus is to empower women around the world to take their health into their own hands. To achieve this, I believe that it is important to get young girls interested and engaged in STEM as soon as possible in school – like I had the opportunity to do. This is why I am also a Community Mentor with the ‘STEMPower’ program – a long term STEM after hours school-based mentorship program for girls to raise girls’ self-confidence in STEM.
At STEMPower, we aim at connecting science and math to real life situations to make it interesting for young girls and so far, have been embraced by the schools we have approached so far here in Uganda. We plan to expand to more schools in Uganda AND region wide. We have engaged potential mentors for from Kenya and Tanzania and we glad to mention we have begun expanding into primary schools in Nairobi.
Despite the fact that we seem like there is no progress now, we believe that one day we will have an equal number of girls and female students taking on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math subjects to boys.
_________________About the Author Margaret is the founder & CEO at HerHealth/BVKit Uganda, a company that focuses on innovation on health tools for women with their flagship product HerHealth/BVKit an award winner of YSiG (Youth Spark Innovation Grant) in 2016. Since 2012, Margaret has mentored many university students through the GDG and WTM Makerere communities and coach for numerous innovations RAN4girls specifically STEMPower and the annual National Technovation Challenge Uganda. She volunteer lead for GDG Makerere and WTM Makerere and STEMPower. Margaret has organized over 30 events focusing but not limited to university students, primary and high school students, with an innovation that impacts community including Code labs, IWDs Celebrations, Study Jams, StartUp Grind Kampala and Extended viewing parties under GDG/WTM Makerere and National Technovation challenge and STEM power Uganda chapter under RAN4girls.