Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council

Big win for Harmony in Health at NEMISA Datathon competition in East London

Published: February 25, 2024

A groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence App developed to assist users with finding alternative herbal remedies for common non-critical illnesses won the top cash prize of R100 000 in the NEMISA Datathon competition held at the East London ICC Hotel on Thursday.
The App called "Harmony in Health" was developed by a group of five young people inspired by research findings that 72% of Africans in South Africa consult traditional health practitioners for their primary health needs in addition to biomedical health practitioners. A majority of these people lived in rural communities far away from pharmaceutical stores.
NEMISA, an entity of Department of Communications and Digital Technologies was in the province together with its partners Walter Sisulu University and the University of South Africa (UNISA) to host its annual three-day National Digital Skills Summit themed "Digital Skills, Economic Uncertainty, and Employment." The Summit is a multistakeholder gathering comprising of industry leaders, policy makers, government, SMMEs, private sector and institutions of higher learning.

NEMISA CEO Trevor Rammitlwa said the Datathon competition is a key feature of the Summit and profiles young people who identify problems in society before coming up with solutions to solve them using digital skills and technology. "SMMEs are born from that, and they can disrupt how things are done but also bring about services to the community," Rammitlwa said.  

Developers of the Harmony in Health App "The Unravellers" told a panel of impressed Datathon judges: "There is a need to find a herbal substitute to modern medicine to remedy or to manage the effects of certain conditions using herbal alternatives. Health conditions, symptoms and allergies often require personalised and holistic approaches to management. Our App is an evidence-based solution."
They said the App which aims to empower communities with herbal health solutions collected information on people's medical conditions, allergies, and symptoms. "We built an App that uses similarities in ailments to provide alternative herbal solutions to modern medicine, to help manage or treat medical conditions. We endeavour to destigmatise the use of herbal or traditional medicine while also opening access to those who are unable or unwilling to buy or consume western medication," they said to the panel.

The App consists of three features namely user personalisation, herbal recommender, and feedback recommendations. Technologies used to develop the App were Python for programming needs, PostgreSQL for database management, Google clouds sequel for database hosting and Google cloud for hosting the App's website. 

The Unravellers said they experienced a great deal of challenges in the process of developing solutions for the App, "because there were no publicly available data sets" on users of traditional herbal medicine. "We made our own data sets from medical journals and that is what our recommender system is based on. It was manual created by our team, meaning that our solution cannot be copied unless someone were to get their hands on our data," the group told the judges. 

The group was one of the five finalists vying for the R100 000 cash prize in the competition. 

A R20 000 cash prize for the runner-up went to the Tech Titans whose project aims to reduce the heavy burden of load shedding by leveraging renewable energy, in particular solar energy. This is done through recommendations and forecasting.

Other finalists included:
  • "Health Connect” an e-health platform which uses machine learning to predict the illness of a patient to a certain confidence level given a couple of symptoms. 
  • Hack Are Tech who developed a data-driven platform that addresses mental healthcare challenges by offering personalised support tailored to each user’s unique personality and mental health condition, and:
  • Print(Alpha) which is a smart agriculture project that addresses the challenges faced by farmers in making informed decisions about crop choices, market data analysis, and sustainable farming practices.
ECSECC COO Akhona Tinta was one of the five panel of judges in the competition. As part of her remarks representing the judges during the announcement of the winners, she highlighted that the solutions illustrated the dedication, creativity, and analytical competence that the teams had. In addition, she emphasised that this is a testament to the potential significant impacts these solutions had in the world of data science and a blueprint for addressing real-world challenges through the lens of data. 

One of the delegate and mentor in the Summit Cllr. Zukisa Gana who is a member of the mayoral committee responsible for finance at the King Sabata Dalindyebo Municipality said by 2025 Africa’s digital economy will be worth 180 billion US dollars.
"This Summit will enable young people in the country and particularly the Eastern Cape to participate in the 180 billion US dollars' worth digital economy in Africa. I think this is great opportunity because just a few days ago Stats SA released a report showing that 58% of young people are unemployed in this country and therefore the knowledge economy space and digital economy offer many opportunities," Cllr Gana said.
He said the Summit was not a talk show: "This is a meeting of technologists who are providing real life digital solutions to the challenges we face, they are not here to discuss how to resolve the problems they are providing real time digital solutions." Cllr. Gana also said they had mentored the Datathon participants to align their research and solutions to the policy direction of the country. "Development must be planned, it must be budgeted for, and it must be followed up by targets and performance. All these are based on data sets and here we are teaching young people about the importance of data, data handling and data management, credibility, reliability, and integrity of data," Cllr. Gana said.

The Summit also featured research papers and Roundtable discussions on:
  • The relationship between digital skills and the labour market: How are digital skills affecting the nature of work and employment opportunities?
  • The impact of economic uncertainty on employment opportunities for individuals with digital skills.
  • Digital skills and the gig economy: How are digital skills shaping the gig economy, and what implications does this have for employment
  • The role of digital skills in addressing unemployment: How can digital skills be leveraged to address the challenges of unemployment in the context of economic uncertainty?
  • Policies and strategies for promoting the development and deployment of digital skills to support employment growth.
NEMISA CEO said the organisation will extrapolate these strategic insights for its own future planning and projects it can implement moving forward. "This research is not just going to gather dust, we are going to use it fruitfully to make sure that it benefits the institute and its stakeholders but at the same time this is a demonstration of the partnerships that we have across universities, government, and private sector. It tells you that this issue of digital skills cannot be delivered by one institution, there has to be collaboration across the spectrum. For the province of the Eastern Cape we spoke about young people who we have trained for cellphone repairs and we will be coming up with support mechanism to support them so that they can flourish and contribute to the economy of the province," the CEO said. 

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