“The hard work is far from over, but we are now better positioned for long-term success”, says Stephen Tashobya, CEO of the Ugandan start-up Wekebere. The social enterprise predicts pregnancy complications by combining wearable devices with data analytics and artificial intelligence. Wekebere was one of 11 AI-startups in the Africa AI Accelerator program. The Accelerator supported entrepreneurs with technical product development and business development.
According to UN global estimates, about two-thirds of all maternal deaths take place in sub-Saharan Africa. Although substantial progress has been made in newborn health and in preventing stillbirths, health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic reveal the weaknesses of healthcare systems and threaten to turn back hard-won progress.
To tackle this issue, Wekebere developed a lightweight wearable belt that tracks important health parameters of the mother and baby throughout pregnancy including fetal movement, heart rate, contractions and maternal health. The device can inform health professionals and mothers about detected anomalies by applying machine learning algorithms to discern patterns within the collected data.
Stephen Tashobya describes the 6-month-long AI Accelerator program as an engaging experience where “fellow startups helped us to gain perspective on what was a normal part of the struggle.” In particular, the workshops helped the young startup to address the issue of algorithmic bias in diagnostic data, guided them on issues of data privacy and helped them to build a chatbot that delivers targeted information to pregnant woman.
So far, the entrepreneurs at Wekebere have been able to support 15.000 women. And they have even bigger plans: In the next 2 years, the startup plans to expand its collaboration with 80 hospitals and reach up to 70.000 expectant mothers.
Wekebere and the AI Accelerator illustrate well how Artificial Intelligence fosters new opportunities to create data-driven innovation that can tackle local problems and contribute to the achievement of sustainable development goals.
The Africa AI Accelerator is the result of a successful collaboration between Ghana Tech Lab, IBM as well as “FAIR Forward – Artificial Intelligence for All” and the tech-entrepreneurship initiative Make-IT, two projects implemented by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).