The North-West University (NWU) attended the recent launch of a new initiative to promote digital health innovation in Africa. This initiative aligns with the strategies of the WHO and national governments across the world in promoting universal access to quality, affordable healthcare to all people.
The launch of the Grace Onyango Foundation* for Digital Health in Africa took place from 17 to 18 October in Kisumu, on Lake Victoria in Kenya. The Hon Rebecca Kadaga, the first deputy prime minister of Uganda, gave an opening address during the gala dinner that formed part of the launch conference. It was attended by diplomats, politicians, academics, researchers, entrepreneurs and philanthropic organisations.
The NWU delegation comprised Nkosinathi Tom (director for strategy in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor), Prof Leenta Grobler (expert in digitisation and digital economies at the NWU Business School), as well as representatives from the faculties of Engineering and Health Sciences, Prof Sam Tšoeu and Martine Vorster, and Dr Janine Chantson and Hannes Malan of the Technology Transfer and Innovation Support Office of the NWU (facilitators of the project).
Prof Sam Tšoeu, from the Faculty of Engineering, says the Grace Onyango Foundation is a platform for international fundraising and the promotion of collaborative, multidisciplinary research, development and commercialisation in digital health innovation between African universities and other stakeholders in the field. “If we are to create a sustainable large-scale positive impact, this has to be a multistakeholder effort.”
“The strategic opportunity to network and collaborate with other African universities on an untapped theme of digital health innovation is important for the NWU. It can become a game changer for public health systems across the continent and globally,” says Prof Leenta Grobler of the NWU Business School.
Dr Janine Chantson, chief director of Technology Transfer and Innovation Support, says the facilitation of the event and the participation of the NWU are all part of promoting the university’s innovations and to make an impact.
NWU innovator steals the show in Kenya
Ian Thomson, a 27-year-old master’s-degree student from the Faculty of Engineering, turned out to be the main attraction at the event with his research and development work on bionic prosthetic legs.
This was not only because of his enthusiastic ability to effectively explain the engineering aspects, but also because of the gripping story of his own experience with a bionic prosthetic leg. Ian lost his leg in a motorcycle accident at high school in Pongola, KwaZulu-Natal and has since tried numerous models of prosthetic legs before settling on his current model.
He felt that at a cost of R1 million for a prosthetic limb, it was simply too expensive for the African market and that the performance could be improved further.
“I am an engineer. I cannot rest until I have contributed towards fixing it.” The result is a newly engineered, cheaper bionic prosthetic leg that is leaving experts in awe.
Ian has big aspirations for the development of intelligent prosthetics within the Faculty of Engineering at the NWU. He is currently working closely with a group of colleagues from the fields of mechanical, computer and electronic engineering. On top of a potential partnership with Jaramogi Hospital in Kenya to develop and trial a low-cost bionic prosthetic leg for African markets, he has partnered with colleagues from the Physical Activity, Sport and Recreation (PhASRec) research entity to prepare an NWU team to enter the Cybathlon competition in Switzerland in 2024.
*The Grace Onyango Foundation was named in honour of Mama Grace Onyango, the 98-year-old teacher-turned-politician during the height of post-independence Kenya. Mama Grace Onyango attended the launch.
Engineering master’s-degree student Ian Thomson conducting a test run with his bionic prosthetic leg.
Prof Leenta Grobler of the NWU Business School is one of the directors of the Grace Onyango Foundation.
The NWU delegation also met with Prof Miriam Were, a prolific and decorated scientist and public health specialist from Kenya and a dear friend of Mama Grace Onyango. She is the chairperson of the Council of the University of Nairobi. In front are Prof Humphreys Were, Prof Sam Tšoeu (NWU Faculty of Engineering), Prof Miriam Were, Prof Leenta Grobler (NWU Business School), Dr Janine Chantson (NWU TTIS) and Martine Vorster (School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Health Sciences). At the back are Nkosinathi Tom (director of strategy in the Office of the Vice-Chancellor of the NWU), Ian Thomson (NWU Faculty of Engineering) and Prof Khama Rogo.