‘Wekebere innovation emerges 1st in the 2020 Healthcare Design Competition at Johns Hopkins University’

In January, 2020 Johns Hopkins University through the ‘2020 Healthcare Design Competition’, put out call seeking for health-related solutions from student-led teams around the world. The competition, which is hosted by the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design at Johns Hopkins University, invited applications in the following categories: Designs of Solutions for Advanced Health Systems, Global Health/ Humanitarian Design and Healthcare Apps/Information Technology Design. Eligible for submission were designs for Medical Devices, Surgical Tools, Diagnostic Devices, Drug Delivery Devices, Health IT Solutions, mHealth Solutions and Global Health Innovations.

A team of three Masters students (Tashobya Stephen, Twijukye Brian and Kinconco Bernadine) from Makerere University responded to this call sharing their solution titled ‘Wekebere’- an Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered device to ensure safer pregnancy. The Wekebere innovation team, which has also benefited from the support of the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), was shortlisted to the final stage where they competed with 12 other teams from around the world, including renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Rice University and others from various continents of the world. 

Following intense preparations, the Wekebere team set out on Sunday 19th April, 2020 to pitch their idea virtually to a panel of judges. At exactly 8:40 pm EAT (1:40 pm EST), the team delivered their 7 minute pitch online. An additional 8 minutes were set aside to answer questions directed by the judges. It was later revealed that the Wekebere team, which represented Makerere University, emerged 1st under the category of Healthcare Apps/Information Technology Design. They were awarded a monetary prize of USD 4000 only (approximately 14 million Uganda shillings). This award, the team says, will help them to purchase the additional mankins needed for the Wekebere device. 

Upon hearing the good news, Prof. William Bazeyo, Chief of Party at ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) noted that ‘it is through such initiatives that innovations are further developed, scaled and launched on the market. One off funding moreover from one source might not be easy to secure but looking out for multiple sources of funding to support innovation is the way to go.’ He further congratulated Stephen and his team for their unrelenting spirit towards the realization of the Wekebere innovation. Dr. Roy William Mayega, the Deputy Chief of Party at RAN also had this to add: ‘Let me once again use this opportunity to thank United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for walking the journey with us and supporting the spotting, further development through incubation and scaling of such innovations like Wekebere. We remain indebted to your generosity’.  

Stephen Tashobya, Wekebere’s Lead Innovator also shared on what drives the team. He had this to say,‘it is time to reinvent pregnancy care. The Wekebere team believes that mothers and babies deserve a lot more through enhanced, low cost health care to support and ease the process of child birth. That is why the Wekebere innovation team is turning maternity care into a movement to spark real change. He concluded by inviting other stakeholders to join them ‘on the journey of innovation and discovery to deliver a better way’.  

Demonstration of the Wekebere Innovation