Accra hackathon for health

48 Hours, 24 Teams, and over 120 People

Malaria diagnosis apps, telemedicine, electrocardiography apps. In the past three decades, human innovation has skyrocketed. While these innovations have changed the way we live, work, and communicate, some global challenges remain unaddressed, specifically health challenges. How can we channel our curious and innovative energies towards improving human health around the world? How can we convene brilliant, innovative minds to begin to tackle major health issues? Health Hack Accra leads by example. 

At a 48-hour competition beginning on August 26, 2016 in Accra, Ghana, students, teachers, doctors, and others gathered to develop innovative ideas, models, and products to address global and local health challenges. As the first health innovation hackathon in West Africa, Health Hack Accra targeted issues that most affect local communities and individuals with the intention of eventually scaling the solutions to other communities worldwide. 

Sponsored by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and hosted at Impact Hub Accra, this hackathon supported 24 teams made up of over 120 participants with the common goal of creating sustainable, scalable products and businesses to make significant impact in one of four challenge areas: Maternal and Reproductive Health, Connectivity and Access to Healthcare, Non-Communicable Disease, and Infectious Disease. 

Emily Sheldon, Director of Health Innovation at Impact Hub Accra, and John-Paul Parmigiani, Co-Founder of Impact Hub Accra and CEO at the time of the event, were two members of a larger team that supported health hackers throughout the competition. From organizing a de-stressing yoga class to 4:00 AM snack deliveries, the Health Hack Accra Impact Hub team went above and beyond to ensure participants had everything necessary to be curious and innovative. 

It was the passion and interest of the participants that made the hackathon so successful, as Emily Sheldon explains, „Creativity is inherent in a low resource setting.” The participants in the hackathon were from Accra and surrounding areas, making them more familiar with local problems and the local infrastructure for solutions. With limited resources, these individuals are familiar with the need to think of new ways to solve their daily challenges. At Health Hack Accra, participants had to think outside the box in order to develop practical, implementable solutions to large-scale problems.

Furthermore, Sheldon describes the genesis of some of the most promising ideas at the hackathon. It is a personal investment and passion for a topic that led teams to the best solutions. „It is the struggles that people face that lead them to creativity,” Sheldon says. „That allows them to create new solutions.” Personal experiences fueled their innovations.

While knowledge of and passion for the subject of global health is imperative to success in health innovation, the Health Hack Accra team fostered curiosity and innovation before and throughout the hackathon in other ways. Research shows that frequent educational and training opportunities are important enhancers of curiosity, although only about one third (34%) of workers in China, Germany, and the United States recognize them in their workplace . Health Hack Accra provided these opportunities with pre-hackathon events , including trainings, networking opportunities, and info sessions, ensuring curiosity and creativity in problem solving among the teams. 

Furthermore, providing time to explore new ideas is a vital support of curiosity that only 28% of respondents to the State of Curiosity survey recognized in their workplace . At Health Hack Accra, participants were encouraged to take part in prototyping trainings and out-of-the-box thinking workshops in order to engage creative tendencies and get teams thinking differently about problems that they know well. 

At the end of the Hackathon, three teams were selected by a panel of judges to continue to an incubation phase and an additional team was chosen by the Hub. These four teams are being supported with the resources at Impact Hub Accra and will see their ideas grow and hopefully become sustainable in the next six months. After that, they hope to scale the projects outside of Accra to all of West Africa. 

By providing resources for these teams, meaning the physical space for meeting and working, consistent internet, and other necessary business tools, Impact Hub Accra will provide vital supports for curiosity and innovation and allow these teams to conquer some of West Africa’s toughest challenges. But the efforts to solve more health problems don’t stop there. Emily and John-Paul, now Chairman of the Board, see even more potential in the future, with a bigger health hackathon in 2017 and hopeful creation of a Health Innovation Center to solve these problems full-time. 

So perhaps mobile phones and ATMs are among the most revolutionary technological innovations of daily life in the 20th and 21st century. However, the ideas and projects coming out of health hackathons, like Health Hack Accra, are exceptional. They bring together culture-specific knowledge and entrepreneurial spirit with some of the most challenging health problems in the world. This powerful combination enables events like Health Hack Accra to make a true, lasting impact on the public health landscape in Accra, in Ghana, and throughout Africa.

Related Stories

View All Stories

Healthcare Research

Growth Hormone Treatment: Technologies to Improve Compliance

Growth hormone treatment can prevent lifelong stunted growth. However, the daily injections mean that young patients have to be very disciplined. An electronic innovation can offer lasting help.

Healthcare Research

Using hamster cells to fight multiple sclerosis

Michel Revel is a brilliant researcher who is the first to discover the benefits of the molecule messenger Interferon beta, found in hamsters, on patients with multiple sclerosis.