In the grand symphony of life, there exists a refrain that echoes through the ages – “My Health, My Right.” It’s a melody that sings of the inalienable right to health, a chorus joined by voices from every corner of the globe. On this World Health Day, we tune our hearts to this profound theme, amplifying the call for Universal Health Coverage (UHC)—a promise of care that leaves no one behind. Amidst the verses of innovation and progress, we celebrate the individuals and ideas orchestrating a healthier world for all.

In embracing UHC, we recognize that it isn’t merely a goal; it’s the foundation of health and well-being in communities around the globe. The second edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health (AYI4H) Awards has highlighted this theme, honoring young innovators driving us towards UHC. By highlighting these pioneering innovations, we affirm our dedication to a future where health services are universally accessible everywhere.

Pharmarun: Redefining medication access

Teniola Adedeji’s Pharmarun stands out as a beacon of innovation, clinching the first prize for its impact on medication accessibility. “Pharmarun is like a trusted partner for healthcare professionals, ensuring that patients receive their medications exactly when and where they need it,” Teniola describes. “It was born from a simple yet profound belief: everyone deserves their medication on time. This innovation saves patients and healthcare providers time fosters better adherence to treatment plans and prevents delayed treatment outcomes. It’s about being there for those who need us, ensuring that distance or circumstance doesn’t keep anyone from their right to health.”

Photo-Kabada: Pioneering care for newborns with jaundice

Moses Ochora’s Photo-Kabada shines a light on the critical area of neonatal care. He eloquently shares the vision that led to its creation “Photo-Kabada was born out of a need for a phototherapy device that caters to health workers in low-resource settings – a one-stop point for a baby with neonatal jaundice. We innovated around the demand to treat more than one baby, monitor their vitals, and have a solar-powered battery to solve the load-shedding issue. Our device offers comprehensive care for a sick newborn baby with jaundice. Photo-Kabada is designed to support a doctor or nurse in a low- or middle-income country NICU, but it is more than a device; it promises every child the right to a healthy start in life.”

Neosave: Advancing neonatal care with a personal touch

Nura Izath discusses Neosave, a crucial technology for newborn care, offering tools that assist healthcare professionals in improving survival rates and health outcomes for the most vulnerable patients. She explains, “Neosave emerged from the deepest place of love and concern—watching over a newborn and feeling the weight of responsibility. It’s our way of saying, ‘You’re not alone’ to healthcare workers and families.”

Trash 4 Health: Turning waste into well-being for all

Muhammad Abdullahi’s Trash 4 Health introduces an innovative approach to healthcare access. He shares,”With Trash 4 Health, we’re not just cleaning up the environment: we’re turning every piece of trash into a chance for better health. It’s about ensuring that ‘My Health, My Right’ extends to every corner of our communities, especially where it’s needed most.”

As we celebrate World Health Day, we delve into the narratives of those making “My Health, My Right” a reality. Through the lens of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, we envision a future where innovation supports healthcare delivery and solidifies the foundation for a world where health coverage is truly universal.

Key leaders in digital health convened at the landmark Global Digital Health Forum held in Washington DC from December 4-6, 2023, setting the stage for accelerated progress in digital transformation to enhance health access and outcomes around the world. The forum convenes influential stakeholders from across sectors to align around priorities, share latest evidence and best practices, forge partnerships, and accelerate progress towards universal health coverage and health-related Sustainable Development Goals powered by digital transformation of health systems worldwide. A perfect occasion to hold an event on African Women in Digital Health: Removing barriers for women’s meaningful engagement and leadership in digital health.

In opening remarks, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Chief Digital Advisor for the Africa CDC, explained the urgent need for AWiDH to help achieve the Center’s digital health goals given immense barriers women still face entering and advancing in technology-oriented careers and entrepreneurship. The detriments of lagging women’s inclusion resounded throughout the discussion led by moderator Fara Ndiaye, Deputy Executive Director at Speak Up Africa. Trailblazer Gloria Karirirwe, co-founder of Auto-Thermo and winner of the second edition of the African Young Innovators for Health Award co-led by Speak Up Africa and IFPMA, spotlighted financing access obstacles for women founders in digital health as well the dire need to find strategic partnerships animated by the motivation to help scale women-led startups. ESwatini HMIS Manager Zanela Simelane showcased her country’s gender policy guiding national digital policies – a leading example the region can model. She emphasized the values of diversity stating, “when we leave women and girls behind, we lose vital perspectives.” USAID’s Sherri Haas urged partners to leverage influence for women’s empowerment at formative stages and called to fund locally-led organizations to develop technology targeting community needs. Finally, Stephanie Watson-Grant, Deputy Director at JSI’s Country Health Information Systems and Data Use (CHISU) Program, reinforced AWiDH’s value for positioning more women in digital architecture roles to enhance user-centered health information systems and access for all. She challenged the continent and its partners to consider what we can start doing differently tomorrow – whether adopting training programs, evolving hiring practices, funding women-led ventures, implementing policies without bias or simply making more room for women’s voices in digital health design.

If digital health is meant to leave no one behind and pave the way to universal health coverage, then no one can afford to ignore the representation gap for African women. Convening dedicated forums such as this one for awareness, planning and progress tracking are imperative. The insights shared during the event reinforced that expanding opportunities for women and girls to shape and lead digital health in Africa is imperative, not just for gender equality, but for catalyzing progress towards our shared aspirations of health and prosperity across the continent. Hosts – CHISU and Speak Up Africa – sounded the alarm and rallied stakeholders to fix our attention on this critical gap in women’s meaningful participation. The launch of the groundbreaking African Women in Digital Health network ushers in an organized, Pan-African platform to continue driving visibility, coordination and accountability from all parties willing to remove the barriers holding back gifted women from taking their rightful place as innovators and leaders of digital health transformation.

Global Digital Health Forum,4-6 December, 2023, By Fara Ndiaye, Speak Up Africa’s Deputy Executive Director

My recent journey to Kigali for the Africa Health Tech Summit (AHTS) and the African Women in Digital Health (AWiDH) panels was nothing short of an exhilarating rollercoaster ride through the future of healthcare in Africa. As I reflect on this experience, I am genuinely thrilled to share the profound impact and excitement these two panels brought into my life.

The Africa Health Tech Summit, AHTS, held from October 17th to 19th, was a remarkable event that gathered over a thousand experts, innovators, and government officials under one roof to explore the endless possibilities of digital health in Africa. The energy was electric from the very beginning.

I had the immense honor of participating in the first panel discussion titled “The New Africa Digital Health Deal: Stronger Health Security Through Digital Innovation.” The session was opened by H.E Dr. Jean Kaseya, whose 4Cs of driving successful digital health are imprinted in my mind. As digital health drivers, we must nurture communities, enhance commodities, have cash for investment, and connectivity. The plenary facilitated by Yacine Djibo, CEO of Speak Up Africa, was a melting pot of visionary individuals who are leading the charge in the digital health revolution. It was humbling to share the stage with esteemed figures like Dr. Sabin Nsanzimana from the Government of Rwanda, Lacina Kone, Director-General of Smart Africa, Dr. Huyam Salih, Director of AU I-BAR, and Ambassador Belen Calvo Uyarra, the E.U Ambassador to Rwanda.

I was blown away by the collective wisdom shared on this panel. We delved deep into the various facets of advancing health security through digital innovation, including the strengthening of primary care, disease surveillance, health innovation, data governance, and the workforce. These discussions were illuminating, and they shed light on the transformative power of digital solutions in healthcare across the continent.

The African Women in Digital Health panel discussion was another remarkable chapter of my Kigali journey. This initiative, co-led by the GIZ African Union and Speak Up Africa, aims to break down barriers and create a conducive environment for African women and girls in the digital health space. The session, titled “Breaking Barriers – Women shaping the future of digital health in Africa,” emphasized the need for meaningful engagement and leadership of women in the entire digital health ecosystem. The importance of policy, collaboration, and infrastructure was underscored, leaving us with a sense of determination to create positive change for women in digital health.

These two panels were experiences that showcased the immense potential of digital health in Africa and the power of collaboration. As I reflect on my time in Kigali, I am filled with hope and enthusiasm for the future of healthcare on our continent, especially the gender gap consciously being bridged. The connections made, the insights gained, and the collaborative spirit I witnessed have left an indelible mark on me.

The journey has just begun, and I am more committed than ever to playing my part in reshaping healthcare equitably and innovatively across Africa. As a woman in digital health, I am more than convinced that opportunities are vast, and the challenges are surmountable when we work together. AHTS and AWiDH have illuminated the path forward, and I am excited to be part of this extraordinary movement towards a healthier, more inclusive, and more digitally advanced Africa.

By Lola Aderemi, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Pharmarun, First Prize winner of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award (Second Edition)

Experience at Africa Health Tech Summit 2023, by Moses Ochora, Founder and CEO of Photo-Kabada and First Prize winner of the Second Edition of the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award

In the heart of Kigali, the Africa Health Tech Summit (AHTS) illuminated a path towards a future where digital health is not just a buzzword but a reality. This gathering of minds, innovators, and visionaries reaffirmed the untapped potential of the African continent in the realm of digital health technology.

The heart of the summit was undoubtedly the panel discussions. These sessions were informative, educational, and thought-provoking. Leading experts, entrepreneurs, and healthcare professionals shared their insights, experiences, and visions for the future of digital health in Africa. From AI-driven diagnostic tools to telemedicine solutions that bridge the gap between urban and rural healthcare, the discussions underscored the incredible potential of digital health technologies on the continent.

In particular, the youth panels were an inspiring highlight. Young minds, with their inherent adaptability to technology, discussed their pivotal role in shaping the future of digital health. They explored how to collaborate to build a youth digital network that drives innovation and change. Their fresh perspectives, energy, and digital savviness are invaluable assets in addressing the healthcare challenges that the continent faces.

The power of the summit extended beyond the panels and workshops. It was in the corridors, over coffee breaks, and during evening receptions where real connections were made. The Ministerial breakfast meeting was one of such spaces where futuristic insights were shared.  The right people were in the right room, discussing the most important things. Entrepreneurs connected with investors, healthcare providers exchanged ideas with tech innovators, and government representatives explored collaborations with private sector players. The synergies created in these moments have the potential to drive the digital health sector forward in Africa.

Take Home – A Glimpse of the Future

From the Africa Health Tech Summit in Kigali, we carry with us a glimpse of the future: a future where digital health technologies have the power to revolutionize healthcare across the African continent. The insights gained from the panels, the connections made through networking, and the energy of the youth summit are all building blocks towards realizing this future.

Opportunities – The Road Ahead

The summit unveiled a plethora of opportunities. It’s evident that Africa has the talent, ambition, and innovation to lead the way in the digital health sector. Investors are eager to support promising ventures, and governments are keen to collaborate. The road ahead may have challenges, but it’s also laden with opportunities for those willing to take the leap.

In conclusion, the Africa Health Tech Summit in Kigali was a testament that the future of digital health is young, vibrant, and African. The journey may seem to have just begun, but the potential for digital transformative change in healthcare across the continent is palpable. As we move forward, let us be guided by the insights gained, the connections formed, and the opportunities that await us on this remarkable journey.”

Written by Dr. Moses Ochora, Co-founder, Photo-Kabada Limited (www.photokabada.com)