Recently, Right for Education was invited to cover the World Innovation Summit for Health (WISH) in Doha, Qatar. WISH is is a global healthcare community, brought together by the Qatar Foundation. They aim to achieve a healthier world, through global collaboration – working together, and sharing the best ideas.
Do you have an idea that you think could improve the lives of people around you? Ucheoma Udoha, Ibrahim Mohedas, and Julius Ssebaketta were all showcasing their innovations at WISH. They each had an idea, and they made it a reality.
Did you know that nearly 75% of blindness is preventable? Ucheoma Udoha is a young woman from Nigeria. She is passionate about ending preventable blindness, by providing eyecare solutions to people in underserved communities. That’s why she launched CrispVision.
Right for Education met Ucheoma at WISH, where she was nominated as a WISH Young Innovator 2018, and was presenting CrispVision’s new eye test kits. The kits can be used by anybody to test their vision, they are reusable, and cost only $4.
R:Ed: What piece of advice would you give to a young innovator in Africa who has an idea but doesn’t know how to make it a reality?
Ucheoma: Prototype. The first thing you have to do is prototype. The finished eye test kit is very different from how it was at the beginning. At first it looked so raw [laughs]. How did I improve it? I sent it out to get feedback. I asked people ‘would you buy this, to check your eyes?’. I asked a lot of people. Some of the people I asked were my friends, but some were just strangers I bumped in to. The idea was in my head every single minute of every day, like it couldn’t get out.
R:Ed: Is there anyone who has particularly inspired you or who has helped you along the way?
Ucheoma: A lot of people inspired me. When I started CrispVision [CrispVision is her business that makes the eye test kits], I needed to find a mentor – someone who worked in my field – to guide me. I chose him randomly! I didn’t know him really, so I just walked up to him, and said “This is where I am. I don’t know exactly where I want to be, but how do I start moving?”.
I was also inspired by Adepeju Jaiyeoba. She was at WISH in 2015, showcasing her ‘Mothers Delivery Kit’ [The kit contains supplies that are needed for delivering a baby. They are sterile, to reduce the risk of infection to the mother and the baby]. That was one of the reasons that I applied to WISH.
Want to know more about Ucheoma? We will be publishing a longer interview about her, and her work, as well as more articles about preventable blindness later this month.
Dr. Ibrahim Mohedas is a researcher at the University of Michegan, who has created a device called the Sub-Q assist. He had the idea for this device while working in Addis Abbaba. While he was there, he saw lots of women coming in to have contraceptive impacts removed.
Contraceptive implants are small pieces of plastic that are put under a woman’s skin, often in her arm. While in the body they slowly release hormones (natural chemicals) that prevent pregnancy. After a few years, or if the woman decides she does want to get pregnant, they are removed.
However Ibrahim noticed that the contraceptive implants were often very difficult to remove. If the implants had been put in too deep, they were hard to find, and hard to cut out. He thought that if you could make sure that the implants were put in in the right way, then the removal process would be much easier, and the women would not have to travel so far to get the implants removed. So he created the ‘Sub-Q assist’, which can be used by healthcare workers with very little training to make sure the contraceptive implants are put in correctly.
R:Ed: If there was anyone reading that this that sees a problem in their community and has an idea of how to solve that problem, what advice would you give them?
Ibrahim: I would definitely say trying to find the problem is the most important part of the innovation process. If you find a problem that doesn’t need solving, it doesn’t matter how good your idea is. So when you see a problem, or somebody tells you about the problem, always go to find out if you’ve really understood the problem in depth.
You also need to understand the views of the people who will use your product. In Addis Ababa we did hundreds of interviews with healthcare workers. We also spoke to the Ministry of Health and the regulatory agencies.
I think that really helped us- we never stopped asking a wide array of different stakeholders to see if we were really solving the right problem.
Want to know more about Ibrahim and the Sub-Q assist? We will be publishing a longer interview about him, his work, and different types of contraception, in the coming months.
JULIUS SSEBAKETTA AND THE IDRAIN
A person’s lungs sit inside the chest, and are covered by a special lining called the pleura. In a healthy person, there is no space between the lungs and the pleura. But in some diseases, fluid can build up between the lungs and the pleura- this is called a pleural effusion. The fluid makes it very difficult for a person to breathe, and so it needs to be drained. The special device used to drain this fluid is called a chest drain.
Julius Ssebaketta is a pharmacist from Uganda. But, perhaps surprisingly, his innovation is not a new type of medication. When he was still a pharmacy student, he heard a surgeon talking at a conference about the problem with chest drains. Chest drains were very expensive in Uganda – about $400 each. This was unaffordable in many low resource settings. So doctors were sometimes using mineral water bottles as homemade chest drains! This was very unsafe for the patients, and put them at a high risk of infection. Julius was inspired to do something about this problem, and it was this that lead him to work on developing the iDrain. The iDrain is a simple chest drain, that costs less than $50, almost ten times less expensive than the chest drains that are currently on the market. It is still being developed, and Julius is hopeful that the first pilot trials will be run in Uganda next year.
Right for Education met Julius at WISH, where he had been nominated as a WISH Young Innovator 2018, and was presenting the iDrain
R:Ed: Tell us a bit about yourself. You are a pharmacist by training, but you are working on developing a new type of chest drain? How did that happen?
Julius: When I was in my second year at university I heard somebody talking about this problem. I am a pharmacist by training, but more importantly I am passionate about health. When I see a challenge in health I feel concerned, and I feel I must do something about it. It doesn’t matter if the problem is not covered by my profession. I don’t need a degree to do innovation. So that’s why I am working in this field.
R:Ed: Tell us about how you came to this point. Who has supported you so far?
Julius: Once we had the proof of concept, and had written the idea up on paper, we presented it to UNFDA, and the Up Accelerate programme. They gave us the first money to start developing it. We also went to Comtech in Uganda, and they gave us more grants that we are using now to develop the prototype. It’s really been all about presenting the idea to people who are also passionate about health, and are therefore willing to give us funding. It’s still hectic, and there is always a need for more funding. But we are still committed, and we know we will succeed in the end. We are very excited to be here at WISH, and are very grateful for their support.
R:Ed: What advice would you give to someone who sees a problem, and has an idea of how to fix it?
Julius: If you see a problem that is affecting many people, and you have an idea to solve that problem, you will find support. People are willing to fund such projects. But the most important thing is you have to do some work yourself first. You have to get your concept ready to present, whenever the opportunity arises. You don’t know when this will come, so you have to be ready. And if you have an idea, don’t just throw it away because it doesn’t work out in one year. People wait five years or more for funding to come. If you are waiting for funding, take that time to do more research about the challenge. And have faith that the opportunity will come.
Want to know more about Julius and the iDrain? We will be publishing a longer interview about him, his work, and other healthcare innovations coming out of Uganda, later this year.