day’s work for many of us.
Anything thought provoking or mind engaging usually takes a back seat as a happy camper side of us, gravitates towards activity that unwinds.
30 year old technology enthusiast and social change advocate Eunice Namirembe is however an exception to that rule.
A renowned stickler for hard work, Namirembe’s creative and enterprising juices seemingly spark and rise to the ascendant as the day declines.
Her unusual creative schedule has with time spawned a steadfast passion to see change being brought to bear not only in Ugandan communities but in other communities across Africa.
Thinking out of the box is a means to end for Namirembe. To her broaching new ideas is like shaking the proverbial pagoda tree.
Often lauded for her charm, this trim, buoyant and warm hearted young woman has over time broached up many radical ideas which have changed the quality of many people’s lives through the efficient provision of health related services and information, not only in Uganda but in select African nations such as in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.
Whilst her routine may have not particularly gotten her into the good graces of many, it is fair to say, her creative efforts have been paying off dividends.
On April 2nd, Namirembe won perhaps her biggest laurel at the Google Africa connected competition held in Nairobi.
In the competition, Namirembe was pitted against 10 other innovative African minds.
She however was the only one in the technology category.
When time to tip the scales came, Namirembe emerged overall winner, taking home a whopping $25,000. She is now set to do a 6 month mentorship with google.
The Africa connected initiative started by Google aims at driving the latest collection of inspiring stories about ventures established on the web by Africans in Africa.
It also encourages users of the web in Africa to learn more about things they can do on the web with google.
Namirembe’s trailblazing technological exploits and inspiring story on how she built the first ever 24 hour accessible mobile ambulance call center that aims at improving health care service delivery and information in Uganda was what put her firmly in the running for the Google prize.
The call center she and her five friends at the Medical concierge group started in august 2012 uses Google API dashboard and Google maps to record patient information and track their locations. It is located on Nabunya Road in Rubaga.
“We must be the change we wish to see in our world like Mahatma Gandhi said. I wanted to break the mould and do something different in terms of positively changing, improving and transforming the health and lives of underprivileged people in our country. The harsh reality is that our health care system is broken. It is on that basis, that i thought starting a mobile for change center would bring about an impact. Our focus is primarily health. It is a call center where sick people call and speak to doctors at any time. Those with questions about ailments will also get quick help and information. We also have a clinic and doctor just in case somebody needs to be attended to. In the first three months, we registered over 4000 calls. Our objective is to close the gap between the doctor and the patient. We also desire to connect Ugandans to much faster and excellent medical services,” Namirembe says
Of great concern to Namirembe as she came up with her novel ideas too, was the issue of high maternal mortality amongst pregnant women in Uganda.
“My heart bleeds when i think about the sorry plight of our pregnant women. Even if the World Health organization noted last year that maternal deaths in Uganda have gone down, we are still lagging behind in lowering maternal deaths. The thought of seeing a woman die in Labour is to me unacceptable. It is for that reason that i want to bring forth change. In this day and age, no Ugandan woman should die while in labour. By making a call to our call center, they can speak to a doctor almost immediately. That in effect is better than going to stand in a long queue at a hospital. In the not so far future, we want to work with countrywide village and urban health teams to improve the lives of not only our mothers but other people through the provision of quality health care and accurate health information,” Namirembe says
With over 8 years of experience in formulating and implementing information communication technology programs in Uganda and Africa, Namirembe says she has been hard pressed in convincing people that she does not have a medical background. “Most of my colleagues at the Medical concierge group have a medical background but i’m a graduate of Economics and Statistics. In the run-up to the finale of the google Africa contest, i was designated as a Physician on my profile. I’m not a Doctor. I’m just a technological and new media enthusiast who will stop at nothing to achieve what i set out to achieve,” Namirembe says
THE START UP
Namirembe says, at the threshold, they invested close to $20,000(UGX, 51,000,000) to fully kick start the project.
“It took me and the 10 other directors at least 6 months to set up and have the medical concierge group running. In terms of man resource, we needed at least 2 doctors, 4 pharmacists, an accountant and a program manager,” Namirembe says
HOW THE MOBILE CALL CENTER WORKS
Patients with any health problem can simply call the Number 256 417 747 000 or 041 477 7000. Normal calling tariffs apply but with no extra cost addition. The center can handle over 8000 calls a day
“When one calls, there will be a trained and experienced Doctor at the receiving end.
In case a patient is far, we locate them using google maps, GPRS and other forms of tracking. A doctor will then advice on what medical facility one should go to, from our data base of health facilities. If they are near, we are also able to track them using google mapping and GPRS. In case of emergencies, we can dispatch ambulances equipped with GPRS tracking devices,” Namirembe says
LAURELS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Besides pushing for new horizons at the call center, Namirembe also shoulders other responsibilities. She is currently the Country Director at Text to Change, a mobile for development organization that has its offices in Naguru. “Becoming the first African Director of this organization, while still in my 30’s has been a watershed moment for me. My designation at Text to change has propelled me into designing and implementing mobile for development programs across Africa. I have been privileged to speak at many global forums, conferences and meetings on how to use mobile interventions to effect social, educational and behavioral change in society,” Namirembe says
Though she looks at it in perspective, Namirembe says her keynote speech at the 2012 World Aids day conference also stands out as one of her pick of the bunch accomplishments.
Armed with a gift of gab, she gave a good account explaining how Text to change, as a company was exploring and using Mobile interventions and other new media platforms like facebook to stem the tide on HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Namirembe’s other claim to fame was her notable speech at the 2012, AFRICOMNET Awards held in Tanzania. Besides the crescendo of handclaps she received after her Presentation, Namirembe also won an award on behalf of Text to Change for the hallmarks and excellence they have manifested in HIV/AIDS strategic communication in Africa.
Born in 1981 to Mr. Anthony Wasswa and the late Mrs. Beatrice Wasswa, Namirembe spent an early part of her childhood in a refugee camp in Nairobi, after her parents fled the 1986 Liberation war.
The family of 8 fled to Nairobi when Namirembe was only 5 years.
“My Mother and elder sister were the first to flee. Dad followed us later. We stayed in the refugee camp for a year. It was a chequered and bittersweet experience living in the refugee camp. We were homesick but Dad and mum were apprehensive about events back home,” Namirembe says
There was a favorable turn in the family’s fortunes nevertheless when Namirembe’s Dad eventually got a job at Action Aid. “Dad became the first African Director of Action Aid. We as a family got a new lease of life. Our circumstances improved and we eventually left the camp. We relocated back to Uganda after the war,” Namirembe says
My father’s tenaciousness, thoughtfulness and positive outlook on life are virtues i always wanted to emulate. Both my parents invariably stayed philosophical in the face of every adversity we faced whilst we were away. Character wise i’m very much like my Dad. He encouraged me to have a strong courage of my convictions. My Dad was and still is very exemplary in every sense of the word. He would set standards and precepts that he always lived by,” Namirembe says
WHAT SHE IS MOST PROUD OF A PERSON
I take pride in the fact that i have a sense of purpose. “It is such values that have put me on this high road. It is the reason i have been able to achieve what i achieved in my career, Namirembe says
Virtue lies in the struggle. I also take pride in my tenacity. I know victory belongs only to those who preserve the most, Namirembe says
Namirembe studied in Kenya for most of her elementary education.
When the family eventually relocated back to Uganda, Namirembe joined Makonzi primary school in Mubende.
She later joined Gayaza high school for her O’levels. Namirembe sat for her A’level’s at St. Joseph’s Secondary school Nsambya.
She later joined Makerere University for a Bachelors’ Degree in Economics and Statistics.
By her own account, 2009 stands out as the darkest year in her life.
“Losing my mother was Perhaps the darkest point in my life. Getting over her death was not easy at all. She had endeared herself to us with her happy go lucky attitude, human relationship skills and kindness. She was such a likeable woman. She would always advice us to make the best out of every bad bargain in life. Unfortunately, she died in harness. At that time, she was still very active as a professional veterinary Doctor. She always gave a good account of herself in whatever she did,” Namirembe says
The unreliability of the Internet in Uganda poses a huge challenge especially with the kind of work Namirembe does.
An erratic internet connection, by and large, affects my work. To help save lives and to locate people who call us when they are in need, we need to have the internet on most of the time, infact all the time. It ensures that we are accessible all the time. It also ensures that we are effectively using newer and more popular social media platforms like facebook to reach out to younger demographics with positive messages of wellness, behavioral change and education,” Namirembe says
LIFE OUTSIDE WORK
There is an ageless quality about Namirembe. It probably explains her blend of matchless energy and keen wit. To all appearances, she looks younger than her age.
“I deem it necessary to work out every day after work. Exercise stands in a good stead for mentally active people like me. Maybe it is what keeps me on a sunny side, age wise. With the tough mental and physical demands on life these days, it makes a whole lot of sense to be active. I have a fixation for kickboxing, jogging and dance lessons. In my free time, you will get me kickboxing and doing road work,” Namirembe says
I also have a philanthropist side to me. Taking care of orphans and giving back to people is something i do following my heart’s dictates. It feels good seeing young, underprivileged and destitute people opening up with smiles when you do something worthwhile for them, Namirembe says
Though she does not toy with the idea of marriage, Namirembe says that day when she finally decides to settle down is just on the horizon. “I’m seeing somebody and we shall get married at the right time, which time is not far,” Namirembe says