In January 2017, four Carnegie Mellon University Africa (CMU-Africa) students won first prize in the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology’s Africa Grand Challenge competition in Arusha, Tanzania.

The theme of the competition was “The impact of digital technologies on healthcare systems,” and it attracted master’s and Ph.D. students from different centers of excellence across the African continent. CMU-Africa was represented by four students pursuing their Master of Science in Information Technology: Batanda Kayondo, Aimable Rwema, Renee Kabagamba, and Aline Gasana.

CMU-Africa students win first prize in Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology’s Africa Grand Challenge competition

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

CMU-Africa students win first prize in Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology’s Africa Grand Challenge competition.

The team was challenged to develop a healthcare solution for Africa using data analytics. They first identified a problem in Rwanda, which is that while many hospitals have long queues of incoming patients and the doctor-to-patient ratio is low, most of the cases could be handled quickly through simple first aid methods. 

The team developed a system that would enable healthcare workers stationed around the country to receive emergency calls. These workers could identify the cases that can be solved through first aid, and those that instead require more extensive medical attention. The workers then could forward the cases that required additional attention to a hospital. This system would include training healthcare workers on first aid and would create employment opportunities for secondary school graduates.

The biggest takeaway from the competition was that it reinforced the need for tech industries to craft solutions based on the needs of the end users, and to find a way to involved them in the decision-making process.

Batanda Kayondo, MSIT student, CMU-Africa

The students won first prize for this system, which demonstrates how digital sensors, big data and analytics, robotics, and mobile cell phones can be integrated into solutions that will significantly increase the capability to provide low-cost, reliable, and effective transportation services in support of healthcare in Africa.

In addition to winning first prize, the challenge afforded the CMU-Africa team opportunities to network with key players in the industry, such as Merck Pharmaceuticals—a principal sponsor of the Africa Grand Challenge.