Ghana adds a modern twist to Stomp Out Malaria

Ghana malaria hackathon
By Lynda Mick
Sept. 26, 2014

For Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), the rate at which we are required to adapt to new situations with creativity and flexibility can at times be overwhelming.

The limited stay in our host countries, combined with the speed at which the international community is developing alongside our villages, builds pressure for action. Developments in technology and easier access to various mobile devices have set the stage for a dramatic shift in the way PCVs work with their host countries to disseminate valuable, life-saving information, and one of the greatest beneficiaries of these advances is the fight to end malaria.

With nearly 3.5 million reported cases annually, malaria remains the number one killer in Ghana. Roughly one-third of all reported cases in Ghana are among children under the age of 5. This equates to nearly seven newly diagnosed cases of malaria every minute and almost 40 deaths of children under the age of 5 every day.

In an effort to optimize resources, Peace Corps Ghana’s Standing with Africa to Terminate (SWAT) Malaria Initiative teamed up with Tech Think Tank and an impressive crew of nearly 27 computer programmers to address this burden. The result of this collaboration was a hackathon, with malaria as the sole focus. 

With the support of Coders4Africa and space provided by Mobile Web Ghana, the event kicked off on the morning of July 12 in Madina with 23 host country nationals and four PVCs, including hackathon innovator Joshua Kim. After greetings, PCV and Masters International student Matthew Ward gave an introduction, which included the event’s goals and some humbling statistics to aid participants in understanding the magnitude of the challenge before them. Patrick Choquette and Matthew McAllister of Peace Corps’ Office of Innovation even took time from their weekend to Skype in during lunch and offer their support.

PCVs Matthew and Joshua laid out four different application concepts that focused on the problem of educating people about malaria. The four concepts were ones that the coders may not have been familiar with, including Jeopardy, Duck Hunter, Quizbowl, and a virtual room “what's wrong with this picture” game. Each of the coders volunteered to work on the concept they thought they could best develop with malaria education as the goal.

The coders broke into groups and selected which ones they would like to work and wasted no time and began furiously coding, both adapting old ideas and constructing new solutions. Participants included representatives from Wikimedia, Google, Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and Coders4Africa, to name a few. The first day wrapped up with devoted participants requesting permission to work on their projects at home.

Cooperation and idea sharing continued to flow like Fanta as new faces, including a few curious PCVs, arrived on the second day. Selom Banybah, a representative of the Ghana chapter of Coders4africa, shared his observation that PCVs “bring joy to all the work they do.” This was the third hackathon Selom participated in with PCVs and definitely hopes it will not be his last.

After a few more concentrated hours it was time to display the finished products; presenters plugged into the projector and shared the work of the last two days.

The first mobile application, modeled off the game show Jeopardy, included four sections of malaria-related questions rated on level of difficulty. As players answered correctly, the questions became increasingly more difficult.

The second mobile application likened a modern version of duck hunter, wherein players swatted mosquitoes as they flew quickly across the screen. Players were awarded points for killing as many mosquitoes as possible, all the while being provided the option to make donations to malaria prevention efforts.

The final mobile application of the day shared a quiz bowl type game that included a variety of informative malaria facts.

The applications were then judged on a number of criteria, including practical application, visual completeness and overall identification with the malaria mission. PCV Matthew O’Neill closed the event by presenting awards to each of the participants. Overall the event succeeded by bringing together local experts with PCVs and generating new tools in the age-old fight against malaria in Ghana.

In early August, four of the original HCN (host country national) coders gave presentations on three applications to a large contingent of the PC Ghana staff. When the presentations were complete, staff were encouraged to ask questions, play with the applications and give feedback. Coders will polish the applications to make them ready for posting on Android soon. Conversation also generated new ideas for expanding on a quiz bowl type application that could be used to test malaria knowledge and compete with other players internationally, charting progress on a live leader board. We hope to move forward with the concept and ideally be ready for large scale implementation on World Malaria Day 2015.

Lynda Mick