working hard. Phyllis Kyomuhendo’s dream was to come up with an innovation that would save mothers’ lives. With the help of her partners, the mScan an ultrasonic technology solution was born. Their efforts won Kyomuhendo the coveted overall Young Achievers Awards (YAA) of 2018, writes Edgar R. Batte.
Kyomuhendo confesses that she did not even expect to win the Innovations and ICT category because of the formidable fellow nominees she was pitted against. She was not surprised when Brian Gitta, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Co-Founder of Matibabu was declared winner. “In my mind, it was sealed, I was happy having been nominated,” she relates.
Kyomuhendo was not aware that there was a category for the overall winner. Towards the end of the gala night, Kenya’s Vice President, William Ruto, was presented the Lifetime Achievement.
Then Humphrey Nabimanya, Team Leader at Reach A Hand Uganda (RAHU), the organisers of the awards, announced the night’s ultimate award. “In his citation, he said 16 mothers die every, and for a moment, my heart skipped a beat. That was it. To tell the truth, that is when my senses switched off. I became dizzy, confused and excited. I could not believe. They took me by surprise. I was very honoured and humbled by that award. I did not expect it,” she recounts.
The mScan is a brainchild of four brilliant innovators who include Innocent Menyo, a radiographer, Prosper Ahimbisibwe, a doctor and Ivan Nasasira, an information systems analyst. “The first time we pitched our idea to someone, they told us that there was no way we were going to make an ultra sound device in Uganda, as students, in a third world country. They asked us to show them just a mouse that had been made by a Ugandan,” the innovator recollects. This rude refusal did not stop them from pushing on. The group presented their idea to United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under the Up Accelerate programme, that is run by Outbox, the group of four, won US$10, 000 (about Shs38m). They used the fund to develop a prototype one at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI).
To go to prototype two, she went to a Y-Her Africa competition which attracts different female entrepreneurs from the continent. “We were there with big influential women. I remember, we were there with women who owned factories in Nigeria, a lady with a chain of spas in Namibia, people with schools, PhDs. I was overwhelmed by the powerful women in the room,” she recalls.
To her delight, the mScan won two of the awards they had been nominated for; the audience award which is worth 5,000 Australian dollars, then the peer review award where ladies pitch amongst themselves and a winner is chosen.
For the peer review award, mScan got 35, 000 Australian dollars. It totalled to close to US$40, 000 (about Shs152m). “That took us from version one to version two which could do images. Version one could only do graphs. Whereas version two could show images, it could not give us the measurements, so we prototyped further to version three which can connect to a laptop, PC, a phone and tablet and you can do ultrasound anywhere. You only need to plug the mScan in any device and can save a life out there.”
Kyomuhendo’s motivation to save mothers began when in second year at Makerere University, as a medical student, was sent for community based education and research to Amach Health Centre IV in Lira District, in northern Uganda.
“There is no electricity and access; it is a real village. I was there to get hands-on skills. Unfortunately, due to lack of electricity, I did not have a machine and several mothers kept dying because I could not scan them. For a health worker, there is nothing as bad as feeling helpless, and not being able to save patients.”
When all students returned from the community health care centres, they shared their experiences and they were all horrified by the sight of seeing many mothers die from pregnancy related complications. They could not apply their skills as radiographers.
Reaching out to vulnerable communities
Last year, the four students came together and decided to do something about saving mothers from dying. They initiated Mama Camps under which they visit communities where they offer ultra -sound services for free.
The first camp was in Bugembe Health Centre IV in Jinja which Kyomuhendo says has an ultrasound machine but has been stored away for year because the health facility cannot afford the electricity capacity it needs.
The mScan team scanned 40 mothers with a single scanner. Out of those, three were diagnosed with complications. “We phase the Mama Camps. Phase one is needs assessment where we asses if people need what we are offering. In innovation, you don’t impose on communities. You have to ask first, you have to be courteous. Phase two is the camp itself where we scan the mothers. Phase three is when we return to check up on mothers to see how they are faring.”
They have also visited Kalangala. They have acquired two more scanners and now have three in total. Beyond the beautiful beaches and hotels, Kalangala needs health attention.
It is made up of an archipelago of 84 islands with a population of 70, 000 that is served by one machine. “Some people have to come to Kalangala by boat to access the scanner. There is a place called Kawunya which has bad waves. To bypass the waves, there is a longer route and it costs close to Shs450, 000 which is expensive to the average person.”
In Kalangala, the mScan team scanned 60 mothers and eight had complications. “If those women had not walked into the health centre that day, they would have died due to ectopic pregnancy,” she says.
Networking is something Kyomuhendo enjoys. With her team, they have had a meet and greet with fellow winners of YAA. And as they shared with the team from Matibabu, they realised that they share the same challenges.
“The guidelines for approval of medical devices in Uganda are confusing and involve a lot of bureaucracy. The process is long and not well laid out. I believe that more Ugandans are going to make medical devices,” she observes.
On her wish list, is to roll out efforts of the mScan, beyond Ugandan borders, to other disadvantaged communities in the region where it can benefit more people.
Kyomuhendo is the last of three siblings. She was raised by Jane Bemigisha, a single mother. When she is not tinkering with technology, this vibrant and cheerful lady loves making friends, swimming and listening to music.