A group of industrious young students from Makerere University in Uganda have developed an app that tests for bacterial vaginosis, a common yet poorly understood condition in which the balance of bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted.
The app, called Her Health, was designed by a group of women called the Team Code Gurus – Nanyombi Maghi (project leader), Ndagire Esther (programmer), Pauline Nairubi (researcher) and Namanda Kaweesi Jackline (graphic designer), all from the faculty of Information Computer Technology at Makerere University.
It is the latest of a burgeoning number of medical apps developed in Africa that aim to make health care procedures more accessible.
“The idea is to make it simple and available for everyone,” says Ndagire Esther. “You can test yourself to make sure that the bacteria is OK and that you’re not developing anything you shouldn’t have.”
The Her Health app is part of a larger package, however, that includes a BV Kit, an adrenal stick or pH sensor that measures the pH balance of a sample of urine or vaginal discharge. The sensor transmits the data via Bluetooth to the app, which determines if the level is healthy or not (a healthy pH balance in a vagina is 4.0 – 4.5).
If your reading comes back outside of these parameters, the app would tell you what signs and symptoms to look out for and provides a list of local doctors. If your reading comes back as normal, the app offers up tips for staying healthy. It also encourages users to check themselves regularly by saving the results of previous tests.
Earlier this month Her Health won the Uganda Technovation challenge, a technology entrepreneurship programme and competition for young women. The programme teaches young women how to build mobile applications that solve community challenges where they live. The Team Code Gurus will go through to the World Pitch Night in Silicon Valley where the winning team receives $10,000 USD towards productisation of their application.
Work on the app reportedly started in January 2015, using research from doctors in various Kampala hospitals such as Nsambya Hospital and Mayo Clinic. One of the biggest challenges the women encountered came from patients’ reluctance to open up on the subject. “Collecting information on BV was one the hardest stages as not many women are ready to disclose that they have it,” says Maghi.
Their initial inspiration for the project came from a popular brand of sanitary napkins called Shuyathat include a bacterial vaginosis self-test strip. The group wanted to find an easier, quicker way for women of all ages to test themselves.
It’s still early days for the Her Health app. “We plan on marketing our app through NGOs, clinics and pharmacies,” says Esther. “We hope the NGOs can help us to reach rural areas where women don’t have the opportunity to test their bacteria to able to use our application.”
Current medical opinion is that bacterial vaginosis is not a serious condition but if left untreated, in some cases it can lead to health problems for women. For pregnant women it increases the risk of miscarriage, early (preterm) delivery and uterine infection after pregnancy. It can also lead to infection for women who have it when they have a pelvic procedure such as a Caesarean section, an abortion or a hysterectomy, and it can lead to a higher chance of catching a sexually transmitted diseases.
The reality is that in areas where women don’t have access to proper sanitation and effective health care, the risks are higher. “People wait for their sicknesses to worsen to seek medical attention,” says Nairubi.
So while the app is not about preventing fatal diseases such as cervical cancer (as some reports suggest), it will help to raise awareness of women’s health issues and prevent the risk of infection.
Says Esther: “If we can touch the life of one woman, that’s enough.”