MIT Africa Takes on COVID-19: Snapshot of the weekend’s solutions
Last weekend, over 1,250 participants from 106 countries — including 44 in Africa — participated in the MIT COVID19 Challenge: Africa Takes on COVID-19. Over the course of 48 hours, 174 teams proposed an equal number of solutions to tackle the most pressing issues faced by many on the African continent. Hackers were split into ten tracks — six under Strengthening the Health System and four under Flattening the Curve.
As organizers, it was truly inspiring to see the dedication, hard work, and creativity of the teams designing their solutions over the 48h sprint.
Here is a non-exhaustive snapshot of the solutions that came out of the weekend. We are so excited to see these teams — along with so many others — put their ideas into action.
If you wish to get in touch with any of these teams or any of the other participating teams to discuss their solutions, please reach out to the organizers at email@example.com.
Track A: Getting Patient Samples to Labs for Analysis
In Track A, Getting Patient Samples to Labs for Analysis, teams tackled the issue of transporting COVID-19 patient samples from local, remote labs to centralized testing facilities in urban centers.
PathPort, a track winner, proposed a solution to repurpose existing cold chain vaccine distribution logistics to safely deliver COVID-19 samples to testing labs.
Team Covistics designed a multimodal transportation system to empower local communities to securely transport test samples to lab centers using local community members. COVIDriver heroes would transport samples to the nearest lab centers and be compensated on commission.
Track B: Strengthening Referral Systems
In Track B, Strengthening Referral Systems, teams designed solutions to help patients identify where they should receive care for COVID-19. How can we help communities identify where they should go first if they experience symptoms of COVID-19? Especially in countries without national ambulance systems, how can we ensure safe, efficient referral systems in the context of COVID-19?
Team COVcast, one of the track winners, built a chatbot to enable potential COVID-19 patients to check whether their symptoms make them likely to have COVID-19. Starting in Tanzania, the team leveraged widely-available technologies to create an SMS-based solution to this problem.
Team Connecting Africa, another track winner, built a low-tech solution, leveraging established community gatekeepers (for example HIV health workers) or local leaders (such as village heads, religious leaders or school principals) to monitor identified cases at the local level.
Track C: Empowering the Health Workforce
In Track C, Empowering the Health Workforce, teams designed solutions to ensure that healthcare providers immediately receive the COVID-19 training and education they need, as information about COVID-19 is constantly changing and evolving.
One of the winning teams, Co-Radio, built an internet radio specifically tailored towards health workers to update them on the latest COVID-19 training and education materials. They are now in talks with the Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation and have been assigned a dedicated spot on the English broadcasting service to stream and broadcast for a numbers of hours each day — check out more on their website!
Team CoWell, another track winner, built a platform accessible from urban and rural areas both online or offline, to share information and motivational content with healthcare providers facing burnout and mental challenges. The team is still working on implementing their solution.
Track D: Readiness for Potential Surges
In Track D, Readiness for Potential Surges, teams looked into solutions to increase the capacity of healthcare systems to prepare them for potential surges in COVID-19 cases, specifically in the African context.
Team Moyo, a track winner, designed a low cost, low tech solution to assist community health workers during surges. The multi-use bag contains educational materials for health workers to disseminate information and prepare their communities for surge periods.
Team Sanipack developed a portable, battery-powered N95 mask sterilizer to clean N95 masks and enable people to re-use them on-the-go. The team is now testing its solution at Penn State before prototyping it on the ground in Rwanda in the next few weeks.
Track E: Sustaining Primary Care During COVID-19
In Track E, Sustaining Primary Care During COVID-19, teams designed solutions to enable safe ongoing access to primary care like maternal care, childbirth, and routine immunizations, as health systems treat COVID-19 patients.
Team Birthing Bridge developed a solution to bridge the gap in maternal care during COVID-19 and beyond. Using a text and voice platform, the team hopes to sustain maternal and newborn health care by disseminating primary healthcare information, enabling self-triage and leveraging expertise of volunteer networks and existing telehealth platforms.
Team Helima Health designed a solution to improve clinical outcomes by leveraging AI powered vitals scanners allowing primary healthcare centers to make evidenced-based decisions during a telehealth visit. This enables health workers to appropriately route patients to an on-site primary care facility, a secondary hospital or a pharmacy to receive their required prescription.
Track F: Energizing Healthcare
In Track F, Energizing Healthcare, teams tackled the key issue of lack of reliable electricity in health centers across the continent.
Team PrioOne, one of the track winners, built an open source data platform that will consolidate data on the location of healthcare facilities, the reliability of their energy connections, and their proximity to potential COVID-19 hotspots in order to empower stakeholders to efficiently, discreetly, and rapidly increase energy capacity based on location-specific urgency of need. The team is still working on their solution and hopes to develop a prototype in the coming weeks.
Team Scada for Africa tackled the issue of rolling blackouts in South Africa, and proposed a demand response app to engage the community to voluntarily cut power in times of supply-demand mismatch on the electricity grid.
Track G: Preventing Community Transmission
Most vulnerable populations across the continent live in spaces where physical (or social) distancing is not possible — in crowded multi-generational homes, dense communities, or refugee settlements. These people often also do not have regular access to clean water, proper sanitation, or healthcare. In Track G, Preventing Community Transmission, teams designed solutions to assist communities to protect themselves and their families during each stage of the outbreak.
Team WaterWorks proposed a solution to facilitate access to hand washing in densely populated areas across the continent by designing a portable, low-cost, efficient hand washing system that is easily scalable across socio-demographic groups in Africa.
Team Ubuntu, a track winner, built an SMS based system that enables health officials to identify local community influencers. They are currently moving the prototype they presented at the hackathon into a production environment for large scale testing and deployment.
Team Better Masks looked into the issue of Do-It-Yourself cloth face masks as they are becoming increasingly popular but vary greatly in effectiveness. The team developed HaloFilm, a solution that increases the filtration and effectiveness of homemade cloth masks. The team is still actively working on their solution and expects to ramp up production and distribution in the coming months.
Track H: Production of Essential Supplies
In Track H, Production of Essential Supplies, teams designed solutions to safely transition local, available manufacturing capacity to produce Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), hand sanitizer and other essential medical supplies and meet the increasing demand for these products.
Team Hero Ventilator 20 (HV20), a track winner, developed a low-cost high-value ventilator using only a desktop 3D printer. It is a portable, low-power usage and fairly cheap alternative — the team estimates the ventilator to cost less than $600. Team HV20 is hard at work to release a prototype and conduct product testing in the coming weeks.
Team Barakoa, also a track winner, designed a solution to create N95 masks from locally-sourced recycled plastic. Their solution is a cheaper alternative to 3D printed masks while also increasing community production ability. The team met during the Hackathon and is now working on the prototype , hoping to have a design to implement this summer.
Team Ripple, the third Track H winner, proposed a way to repurpose the supply chains of recycling plants and organizations on the ground in Nigeria to mass-produce sustainable, inexpensive PPE produced from plastic waste products, all while employing low-income citizens and cleaning up the environment. The team is partnering with WeCyclers Nigeria to produce cheap and readily accessible PPE.
Track I: Enabling Work and Supporting Livelihoods
In Track I, Enabling Work and Supporting Livelihoods, teams designed solutions to enable communities that live on daily wages to safely maintain parts of commerce essential to their survival, given that a complete economic shutdown is an immediate threat to their lives.
Team Usawa, a track winner, designed a density feedback solution to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in informal open-air markets. Focusing on Nigeria, the team developed a text message platform to inform potential customers about when to shop, thereby reducing the risk of contamination.
Team Save the Now, also a track winner, tackled the liquidity challenge facing customers during lockdowns. They developed a voucher platform that allows communities to assist their members in distress by pre-buying products and services; after lockdown measures are eased, these services and products can be redeemed.
Team Sebenza, also a track winner, developed a platform to match displaced informal job seekers with newly created jobs through a simple USSD Platform. They plan to pilot in Ethiopia, but hope to leverage partnerships with governments, telecom companies, and other businesses to scale across the continent.
Track J: Combating Misinformation
In Track J, Combating Misinformation, teams deployed solutions to get communities across Africa access to the helpful and — most critically, accurate — information on COVID-19 that they need.
Team Vet Africa, one of the track winners, built an AI Chatbot with USSD integration specifically targeted towards vulnerable people who do not have internet enabled phones. Starting in Uganda, the team developed a prototype over the weekend (see video demo!).
Team MLP Rocket designed an innovative solution, Accuro, a platform to combat misinformation by checking the accuracy of information against trusted sources, and providing users with shareable verified information to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Team AltLearn, another track winner, developed an audio-enabled, low literacy, written content to provide children under 15 in Africa with trusted and accurate information related to COVID-19. The team is specifically targeting children under 15 years old, who represent 41% of the entire population but are currently not targeted by COVID-19 communications.
THANK YOU TO ALL THE PARTICIPATING TEAMS!
Over the course of 48h, teams formed from around the world to tackle some of the greatest issues faced by many in Africa. In that respect, we wanted to highlight some of your team slides to show the global scale and scope of what you participated in.