Hack4GlobalHealth: First Hackathon Experience

Thursday morning and I didn’t want to wake up. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. This is what happens when you’re on full throttle for five consecutive days, running on little sleep and pumped full of sleeping pills. I succumbed to the pressure and allowed my body to relish in the victory. Sleep! A reminder that I’m more primate than silicon.

To say that I’ve had an awesome week would be an understatement. I urge everyone to either go to Eventbrite’s website or download their mobile app for a selection of events to attend and gain some exposure. It’s through their website that I’ve attended numerous events on health, finance and business. I’ve gotten the chance to open my eyes even further and get to learn how entrepreneurs, financial engineers and techpreneurs are using their knowledge and experience to solve health problems.

At one event, dubbed using financial engineering for health innovation, a number of guests were surprised when we (my roommate and I) introduced ourselves as medical students.They have been used to medical students and professionals studying, working and living in isolation, too imperious and too busy to bother with anyone else. It was therefore exciting and encouraging for them to see medical students interacting with financial engineers and programmers. We were tasked with spreading the gospel to our fellow classmates.

It is with this background in mind that I opted to attend the Hack4GlobalHealth Hackathon, a challenge initiated by the German Development Cooperation, one of the donor partners to the Ministry of Health in Kenya. The aim of the Hackathon was to develop innovative, IT-based solutions to existing problems in the Kenyan health system.

There would be a total of 11 teams and we would end up spending 72hours at iHub on Ngong Road, an innovation space for techies, developers and entrepreneurs. In the end, 3 teams would be chosen for further coaching and preparation for the chance of pitching their ideas to the International German Forum in Berlin in February 2017. The organizers of the event seemed to attach particular significance to this point, seeing that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would be present at the Forum.

I was very nervous and at one time even considered not showing up. I felt inadequate and my lack of coding/programming (if there’s a difference between the two) experience left me wondering what role I’d play in the challenge. Ultimately, curiosity got the better part of me and I took that great leap into the unknown. Drum rolls please!

Thursday, 24th November

We started on Thursday evening by having an informal meeting at iHub, where we got to introduce ourselves and form teams in preparation for the challenge.

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Informal meeting at iHub, November 24th 2016.

I ended up partnering with a Business Marketing Guru (Collince), though we had no developer interested in joining our team. “Fine start this is,” I thought to myself. The hackathon hadn’t started and we were already one man down! I went back to my place later that night, heart hammering with excitement, trying to read something health related so that I wouldn’t look as blank as I felt during the ideation stage of the challenge the following morning.

Friday, November 25th 2016

I love free breakfast! We started at 9.00 AM with a few speeches by the organizers of the hackathon, coupled with a few presentations on the situation of health in the country. I felt relieved since the burden of explaining the status of health in Kenya had been lifted. Sometimes in med school one can’t see the forest for the trees.

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Waiting for the hackathon to officially begin. I’m in the second last row in a grey shirt.
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Introductory remarks by the Professor in charge of ICT in University of Nairobi, one of the partners of the Global Health Hackathon
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Introductory remarks by a senior member of the German Development Corporation (GIZ)
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Dr. Salome taking us through the status of healthcare in the country.

After the presenters were done, it was time for us to get started! Our team, ChanjoPlus, still didn’t have a developer on board. However, we sat down and came up with a problem statement and an IT solution for our problem. We were concerned with the status of immunization coverage in the country. At 78.9% coverage (Kenya Demographic Health Survey 2014), Kenya is doing relatively well, but still short of the WHO goal of 90% and the Ministry of Health’s ambitious 95%. Our solution aims at increasing immunization coverage and simultaneously improve the supply chain management of vaccines, to avoid scenarios where 50% of vaccines are wasted, according to the WHO.

I also discovered that adolescents are the silent majority when it comes to health, and at the moment my mind is brimming with ideas on how to reach that demographic, seeing that by the age of 20 years, 70% of them have already had sex (mostly risky) while parents and religious organizations bury their heads in the sand and refuse to allow sex education with contraceptives being made available to children and young teens.

We eventually got two developers on our team, and the hacking begun! I got to interview one of them for fifteen minutes and learnt a lot of background info on how code works and what developers actually do. It wasn’t all work and no play either! We tried (I failed miserably) on performing a mannequin challenge (if you don’t know what that is, then we’re kindred souls! 🙂 )

Saturday, November 26th

I’d gone back to my room on Friday night, but some people opted to remain behind and code late into the night. I felt a tiny voice urging me to experience the Hackathon fully and spend the night with our developers. We’d left our developer (Brent) working on implementing our solution the night before, and it felt wrong to leave him working solo again. Luckily, a second developer (Churchill) joined us, giving us enough man power to forge ahead in anticipation of the final day of the Hackathon when we would have to pitch our ideas to a panel of judges and await their verdict.

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ChanjoPlus team. From left, Brent (Systems analyst), Victor (me, Med Student), Collince (Business Marketing Guru) and Churchill (Lead Developer)

 

The photography team captured us working late into the night, and they got me sifting through detailed journal articles and dry statistics that would go into our presentation on Judgment day!

I got this amazing headshot for the Hackathon presentations, and quickly updated all of my social media profiles. People had to know that there was a new James Bond in town!

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My best picture yet! Watch out Denzel Washington! I’m coming for you! 😛

Sunday, 27th November- Judgment Day 

The space at iHub was full of nervous activity as all teams hacked away, cleaning up the code behind their prototypes and preparing their presentations. Some of the mentors from the German Development Corporation went by each team, listening to our half baked solutions and giving us tips on how to package them for the judging panel.

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Last minute checks before pitching to the judges.

And finally, judgment day arrived, and the pitching began! Yikes!

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First team pitching to the judges. I was as close to the firing squad as I could dare to be!

Three teams were selected, and unfortunately our idea was not taken up. It was a worthwhile experience, I learnt a lot and made new friends. And what’s more, we have decided to soldier on with our solution and are currently scouting for partners/investors to fund the pilot project and give us further guidance on how to navigate the murky waters of digital health.

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The winning teams took a group photo with the judges. Grace (only girl on the left), my friend and classmate, was so happy you can feel her smile! 🙂

From wavering on whether to attend the hackathon or not to forming a startup, all in 72 hrs! Gosh! When’s the next hackathon?! 😛

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