In the face of the Zika public health crisis, more than 150 global health experts and innovators including a team of two delegates from Makerere University School of Public Heath – ResilientAfrica Network ( RAN) came together April 2-3, 2016 at The Richard B. Simches Research Center, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) for a Zika Innovation Hackathon. This was a rich knowledge generation and sharing platform that united participants from diverse disciplines, backgrounds and different regions of the world to develop new solutions to address the spread of the Zika virus with its related outbreaks. Participants worked around the clock in just 48 hours to pitch ideas, form cross-disciplinary teams, and present 15 innovations with the potential to combat Zika and other infectious disease outbreaks around the world.
The event was organized by The Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) and Global Disaster Response at MGH Global Health. It was sponsored by the GE Foundation, Johnson & Johnson and Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany and Grand Challenges Canada.
This engagement drew representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and USAID Global Health to the World Health Organization and the White House, including keynote speeches from Nestor Sosa, MD of the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Panama, and Ms. Wendy Taylor the Director of the Center for Accelerating Innovation and Impact at USAID. She highlighted that USAID has solicited ground breaking solutions in the past through grand challenges, hackathons and workshops and supported the model of engaging multi-sectoral participants to develop solutions and stressed some of the lessons learned. “It is critical to ground truth your ideas with practicing experts in the field” she remarked.
Ms. Amy Pope, Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the President at the National Security Council, The White House also delivered a Keynote address and mentioned that there were lessons from Ebola that resonate with Zika, we need to be better prepared so that we are not too late to get in control. She encouraged participants to use the hackathon as a platform to harness their collective ideas and develop novel solutions to help detect and prevent global threats like the Zika virus.
Participants also heard from clinical, public health, and government experts from across the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean about specific challenges related to Zika, what other countries like Brazil and Jamaica had done to combat Zika during an interactive special Voices from the Field panel discussion.
“We saw so much enthusiasm and creativity this weekend,” said David Barash, Executive Director of the Global Health Portfolio and Chief Medical Officer at the GE Foundation. “These innovators represent the power of crowdsourcing in addressing global health security and responding to an international threat like Zika.” Dr. Barash also Co-Chairs the Private Sector Roundtable through which the private sector collaborates to support the goals of the Global Health Security Agenda.
At this Hackathon, the Teams were working on solutions to address the following challenges;
- The Mosquito
- The Person
- The Clinic
- The Community
- The Future
The RAN team which was comprised of Dr. Roy Mayega and Ms Debora Naatujuna Nkwanga, conceived and prototyped a web-based platform named “Unearthing the Silent Signals,” which collects social and ecological data sets from different sectors such as Uganda’s ministries of finance, health and agriculture. With the hope that these data sets contain trends that can be correlated to epidemics and used for preemptive epidemic tracking. “We come from a region in East Africa that is a geographic hotspot for epidemics, in our region almost every six months we have a notable outbreak,” said Mayega. “As an epidemiologist I respond to outbreaks and investigate possible causative factors. The problem with these kinds of factors is that they are proximal risk factors they do not tell us about future risk, they tell us who is at risk now. We identified a variety of reliable databases that could feed a data collection repository, on which to run statistical models to predict the optimum sociological conditions that would lead to an epidemic. Bringing all these together is a powerful tool that can help public health specialists to mitigate disasters.
At the end of a sleepless night, working hard to address the public health threat that had dominated headlines for the past three months, Four Teams emerged winners, a total of $4,000 was awarded to the winning teams;
∙ The Most Innovative Solution: Team Larva Finder – an add-on device to a smart phone with a supporting mobile application that detects the presence and geographic location of specific larvae species.
∙ The Most Implementable Solution: LAD (Larvicide Automatic Dispenser) – An automatic dispenser that helps ensure adequate larvicide dosing through the use of a water body.
Innovations that Promise the Greatest Public Health Impact (supported in part by Grand Challenges Canada) were also awarded, including;
- Team Relix – a mobile tool that allows users to report high-risk mosquito breeding areas.
- Team Phairies – a game that teaches children about mosquito risks and vector control strategies. Each of the four awards will also include acceleration support from the Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) through its Innovation Platform.
“Considering the complexity of the Zika virus and other vector-borne diseases, we need innovations that are just as multi-faceted,” said Elizabeth Bailey, Director of CAMTech. The hackathon was a great opportunity to generate a new pipeline of ideas to help partners tackle this public health threat of Zika, and other related epidemics in the future.
The Consortium for Affordable Medical Technologies (CAMTech) has a mission to build entrepreneurial capacity and accelerate medical technology innovation to improve health outcomes in low-and middle-income countries. CAMTech’s approach enables co-creation, where innovators across public health, engineering, and business engage with end-users to develop disruptive medical technologies to achieve widespread public health impact. CAMTech’s initiatives, including its newly launched CAMTech Innovation Platform and CAMTech Accelerator Program, help connect and support a global community of innovators working to improve health in developing and emerging markets.
The hackathon experience was so meaningful, it is such a great lesson to see how people from different backgrounds and with different interests can come together to develop solutions that can make a big impact.
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“Solutions through Innovation”