These Ugandan university students won an Imagine Cup Grant for their device to help
Expectant mothers line the maternity ward corridor, wearily waiting for medical
attention. In rooms off to the side, undersized cots hold several women but those
without beds must wait at the doors. The midwives and nurses at Uganda’s largest
hospital dart from patient to patient, doing what they can to help.
YouthSpark Reporter Jaagriti Sharma joins Team Cipher256 members Josh Okello and
Aaron Tushabe at a party before the big We Day event.
YouthSpark Reporters and Team Cipher256 members meet Craig Kielburger and Microsoft
President of North America Judson Althoff.
Aaron and Josh take the stage with Microsoft’s Judson Althoff to discuss the device
they created to help rural women with prenatal care.
Aaron chats with VIPs backstage at We Day about the work he has done to help women
Aaron uses the WinSenga device to test the fetal heart rate and other vital signs
of an expectant mother.
The Windows Phone app works with a microphone wire and Pinard horn to listen to
the fetal heartbeat, record weight, height, and other metrics.
Aaron and Josh visit the Microsoft office in San Francisco to discuss future plans
for their company.
“Imagine Cup affirmed to me that I am part of a new breed of African youth: the
kind that have the skills, ability and passion to make things that will change the
course of Africa and the world.”
Months later, attending a hackathon with fellow university freshman Josh Okello,
the two meet Joseph Kaizzi, an IT expert and Imagine Cup participant who encourages
them to create a team for the upcoming competition.
Imagine Cup is a global student technology program and competition that
provides opportunities for students to team up and use their creativity, passion
and knowledge of technology to create applications, games and integrated solutions
that can change the way we live, work, and play. In 2012, the competition asked
technologists to address the United Nation’s
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
One of those goals is to improve maternal health and infant mortality. Aaron and
Josh, who spent some time in medical school before pursuing IT degrees, both thought
of the Mulago Hospital. Their collective experience with maternal health and maternity
wards led them to seek a solution for women in their community.
WinSenga is a handheld device that can scan a pregnant woman’s womb and report information
to a mobile application that recommends a course of action.
They created Team Cipher256, named after the country code for Uganda. In their team
strategy sessions, Aaron recalled his failed attempt at using the Pinard horn, a
device similar to a stethoscope named after the French doctor who invented it. Widely
used in Africa as an alternative to the ultrasound, the device picks up vital signs
when placed on a pregnant woman’s abdomen. But it takes practice to read it correctly
and only skilled nurses can interpret the sounds. Aaron and Josh became determined
to find a way for computer science to change that.
They set out to create a portable, mobile and affordable tool to help mothers with
prenatal care. The result was WinSenga (Win for Windows and Senga is the Luganda
word for auntie, the woman charged with guiding mothers in reproductive health).
WinSenga is a handheld device
that can scan a pregnant woman’s womb and report fetal weight, position, breathing
patterns, age, and heart rate. It uses a plastic trumpet-shaped device, similar
to the Pinard horn, and a microphone. The information is transmitted to a smart
phone and into the mobile application that plays the part of the nurse’s ear and
recommends a course of action. The analysis and recommendations are uploaded to
the cloud and can be accessed by a doctor anywhere to track progress at any time.
WinSenga will give high-risk mothers in rural areas access to prenatal care. Uganda
has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, and according to UNICEF,
less than 40 percent of mothers make the recommended four prenatal visits due to
long distances to hospitals, lack of effective equipment, and understaffing. “Most
clinics in rural areas don’t have ultrasound machines and women can’t afford to
travel,” Aaron says. A prenatal visit costs about 20,000 Uganda shillings (US$10)
in the Mulago Hospital.
Women wait in line at a trial for WinSenga, the device created by Ugandan university
students to help expectant mothers read and interpret fetal vital signs.
“We believe that for a technology to work and serve the user, two fundamental issues
must be addressed: affordability and access,” says Josh. “The former puts the tech
in the hands of the user and the latter helps them get it more easily.”
Team Cipher256 entered and won the Microsoft East and Southern African Imagine Cup
National Finals and then competed in the World Finals in Sydney. They were beat
In Australia, but undeterred. They applied for an Imagine Cup Grant and found out
they won a $50,000 grant at the Social Innovation Summit in Silicon Valley. Imagine
Cup and the Imagine Cup Grants are both part of Microsoft YouthSpark, our initiative
focused on creating opportunities for youth to realize their full potential through
programs that strengthen education, expand digital inclusion, and give young people
the tools they need to change their world.
Team Cipher256 wins a $50,000 Imagine Cup Grant for their device created to bring
prenatal care to rural women in the developing world.
The young entrepreneurs are using some of the perks of their Imagine Cup Grant to
support their business efforts. Microsoft
BizSpark provides them with free software, support and visibility for their
startup. Both Josh and Aaron are also Microsoft Student Champs: members of an online
community that connects them with other young entrepreneurs and industry professionals.
Their company is housed in the Microsoft Innovation
Centre in Uganda, a hub that provides employment, education and entrepreneurship
opportunities for Ugandan youth. Aaron recently received his bachelor’s degree in
computer science; Josh delayed his graduation to work on the startup but will receive
it in January of 2015.
“Imagine Cup helped me grow professionally, opened my eyes, and gave me a platform
to inspire many other young people,” Josh says. “It affirmed to me that I am part
of a new breed of African youth: the kind that have the skills, ability and passion
to make things that will change the course of Africa and the world.”
University students Christina, Brian, Meghan, Adam, and Sneha journeyed to Kenya
to learn how innovation can solve local and global issues.
Ranjeet traveled miles to take technology classes and now supports his family with
the income from his own mobile repair shop in India.
This high school dropout went through intense web development training and landed
a job at Microsoft France.