In a dimly-lit room, a woman sits alone on a bench, holding a baby wrapped in blankets and looking out a rain-pelted window. The power has been out for thirty minutes. Still, no generator. But life goes on at Itojo Hospital, one of the clinical sites visited as part of CAMTech Uganda’s Aug. 25-27 hackathon.
The Consortium for Affordable Medical Technology (CAMTech) is a global network housed under Massachusetts General Hospital’s Global Health Division. It operates in India and Uganda. This year marks the fifth anniversary of CAMTech Uganda’s medtech hackathon, a three-day event designed to spark local innovation.
The theme for this year’s hackathon is improving neonatal and maternal care. In 2015, Uganda’s maternal mortality rate was 343 deaths per 1,000 live births, according to a World Health Organization report. Its infant mortality rate was 38 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Friday’s schedule of events formed a sort of prelude to the weekend, educating hackathon participants about problems in maternal and neonatal care and getting them jazzed about innovating their own solutions. Over the next 48 hours, participants will form teams, pitch healthcare solutions and compete for cash prizes.
The Itojo Hospital visit was just one of the activities that gave participants a glimpse of the challenges. Before that, participants attended a four-hour clinical summit, a relatively new component that was added last year.
“The clinical summit really is used to highlight what the problems are,” said Data Santorino, country manager for CAMTech Uganda. “Many of the hackathon participants have never worked in a hospital before. It’s meant for them to hear what challenges are out there, so they can start thinking about solving these challenges.”
The clinicians, engineers and businesspeople at the summit seemed up for the task. Pens were clicking and pencils, scribbling during the summit’s three expert panels.
Matthew Ocheng, a hackathon mentor and staffer at government-run incubator Uganda Industrial Research Institute, said he hoped to learn about opportunities for cross-sector collaboration. “I want to hear from the clinicians—mainly, what exactly are they facing in the hospitals that they think the public or private sector can come in and solve?” he said. He also expressed interest in startups’ potential to create jobs and lower unemployment rates.
The summit touched on some key issues, including communication among healthcare providers; skilled midwifery; early pregnancies; transportation and medical technology. Also discussed was men’s role in supporting women seeking maternal and neonatal care.
These issues came up again during the clinical site visit at Itojo Hospital, about an hour drive from Mbarara, as a group of six participants followed a nurse through the maternal care unit. They asked questions and jotted down notes about equipment, procedures and working conditions. They seemed optimistic afterward about the insights gained. But that knowledge will be put to the test tomorrow, when the competition begins.
Amy Pollard is a candidate for the MA in Communication and International Relations at Boston University. Her interest in health care began with her first trip to Tanzania, where she volunteered at a medical dispensary in a rural village and saw firsthand how access to health care impacts patients. She’s excited to learn about health care technology in Boston. She’s originally from Seattle and holds a B.A. in English from Saint Martin’s University. When she’s not writing, she’s probably drinking coffee, making tacos or watching Parks and Rec. Follow her @amyannexu.
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