The OutSystems Community efforts to give every organization power to innovate is continuing in the form of the Build for the Future hackathon. If you haven’t heard about it, this hackathon is a partnership between OutSystems and its Partners to create apps for nonprofits and help them in their outreach and digital transformation efforts.

After introducing two of the non-profits that are taking part of this challenge—Strength United and Zer0Hunger—this week, we had the opportunity to talk to Prof Darelle van Greunen, founder and director of the Nelson Mandela University Center for Community Technologies (CCT).

Being part of the OutSystems Education Program, Nelson Mandela University realized that the OutSystems platform could help them reach the communities in rural areas of South Africa. And that is how our journey begins, and we couldn’t be more proud to support the organization that won the UN Innovation Award for 2020.

Learn more about CCT below and how they are leveraging technology in the work with their communities.

Q: Darelle, tell us more about the Center for Community Technologies.

The Centre for Community Technologies (CCT) at the Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa is involved in research and engagement activities across multiple disciplines. As such, it is not only doing applied research but also actively implementing interventions that contribute to South Africa's development goals and the African continent in general.

The CCT’s focus is on developing potential and wellbeing, particularly in disadvantaged, vulnerable, and deep rural communities. The CCT integrates transdisciplinary research and innovation with community engagement by developing and implementing needs-driven smart technologies that enable the advancement of education, health, rural and social development, particularly in low-income communities.

Kids using computers

Q: Can you give us examples of technologies that CCT is using to help these communities?

In the Digital Healthcare Solutions space, the CCT investigates existing and designs new ICT solutions that support healthcare and service delivery in low-income settings.

Highlights in the health space include:

  • NcedisoTM, an integrated mobile application developed to up-skill community healthcare workers (CHWs), including nurses and clinic practitioners, in areas where basic healthcare, first aid skills, and clinics are scarce. Ncediso™ won the top innovation award in the category of High Social Impact at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in February 2020.
  • KaziHealth, a mobile application that integrates three lifestyle interventions namely, physical activity, nutrition and stress management, to guide individuals in achieving their personal health goals. This app won the Nelson Mandela University Vice-Chancellor’s Excellence Award 2020 in the category Innovation Excellence Project Award. KaziHealth is part of the bigger KaziBantu project, a specially tailored school-based intervention programme aimed at consolidating the practice of physical education and ensuring the physical literacy and healthy active living of school children and teachers.  The KaziBantu project is an interdisciplinary project with a consortium of national and international partners.
  • mHealth4Afrika, which was an EU funded Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation project that focused on investigating the potential impact of technology adoption in semi-urban, rural and deep rural clinics in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. The project developed an open-source, multilingual platform, which supported the use of medical sensors integrated with an easy to use patient record system (initially focused on antenatal care and improving maternal and newborn mortality levels) that also automates the generation of monthly key indicators that must be collected for reporting purposes.

In the time of COVID-19, the focus has turned to the control of infectious diseases, with the support of apps such as: 

  • DigiTB, a responsive web application aiming at reducing the Tuberculosis (TB) burden through more effective management of TB cases. DigiTB consists of different modules that enable a healthcare practitioner to create an electronic medical record for a patient, capture patient data, monitor and record treatment adherence and compliance, and support healthcare workers to identify and record TB screening data during case-finding activities. DigiTB also uses video observation treatment (VOT), a feature that allows a healthcare practitioner to monitor a patient’s medication compliance remotely via video calling.
  • COVTOR, which is a COVID-19 Contact Trace and Monitoring Tool.
  • CareBuddy, an electronic screening tool developed specifically for schools to do daily COVID-19 screening of learners and educators.

CCT has also developed other technology solutions in the education, agriculture, and community development space.

Q: What is the main reason you decided to participate in the Build for the Future hackathon, and what are you hoping to gain from it?

Cancer kills more people every year than AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. The CCT is collaborating with both CANSA and Cipla on a variety of Cancer-related projects. By collaborating with these organisations and oncologists working in rural communities, the need to understand the prevalence of different cancers became evident.

Research has also shown that cancer patients seldom understand the disease, the treatment and its side effects, and the emotional impact the disease has on their lives and families. The lack of information and the misinterpretation of available information lead to fear and stigmatisation, resulting in evading medical advice and treatment.

The need for appropriate information, presented in a way that is culturally respectful and easy to understand, using different platforms and delivery mechanisms that would appeal to both young and old has been the motivation for the CCT to participate in the Hackathon. We wanted to see what the development teams came up with in terms of technology platforms, content, usability and user experience (UX), which is a critical part of the technology solution we are looking for.

Q: How can a modern app platform like OutSystems become a supporting mechanism for cancer?

The need to support cancer patients and their families in remote areas became even more evident with the latest PBCR report for the period 2013-2017. This report has shown a significant increase in the number of prostate cancer incidences in men and cervical cancer incidences in women, compared to earlier reports where esophageal cancer incidents in rural populations were very prevalent.

The spectacular advances in mobile technologies in recent years and the high penetration levels of mobile phones in South Africa, especially in rural communities, made it easier to reach people living in remote areas. Unfortunately, the cost of data and the lack of connectivity in large parts of the rural areas in South Africa, make it difficult to support cancer patients in a manner that will entice them to know more about the disease, how to prevent or detect the possibility of cancer and to curb the fear (or ignorance) they have about cancer.

Then there are also low literacy levels and language barriers of specifically the older people. When joining the hackathon, our expectations were that OutSystems would come up with novel solutions that would make it possible to support cancer patients, despite the challenges they experience or to find innovative ways to circumvent the barriers.

Woman showing tablet to kid

If a suitable technology solution can be implemented successfully, it will open up new possibilities for other types of support services as well that were identified during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: Five OutSystems Partners are racing to develop the best possible solution for CCT, Neueda (North Ireland), Valuga (The Netherlands), Ifabula (Indonesia), Everis (Portugal) and Persistent Systems (India). You had the opportunity to meet them all, how does that cooperation and partnership look for you?

The partnership experience is not only exciting but holds the promise of new and exciting innovations.  The OutSystems platform is flexible and offers capabilities for innovative and flexible solutions. 

The partners show dedication and passion to solve the challenge that was put to them.  It also appears to have triggered a humanitarian approach to the solution.  Many of the participants have indicated that they can relate to the use case and understand the need for such a solution.

Q: What is next for your organization post-Hackathon? What are some of the goals you’ve set once the event has run its course?

One of the primary goals post-hackathon is to launch the winning project in collaboration with the Cancer Association of South Africa. The CCT was also approached by the Cancer Alliance of South Africa that creates further opportunities for exposure and launching of the winning product.

It is envisaged that an ongoing partnership will be established across organisations and continents to offer beneficial solutions to the people of Africa.  The CCT also wishes to explore using the platform to develop much needed solutions to address some of societal challenges faced by South Africa and the African continent.