2024 Mega Designathon kicks off in Lagos

……as 140 youths work on ideas to enhance public health in Nigeria

DG NIMR with other principal officials involved in the project

Some One hundred and forty creative and innovative Nigerian youths within the age bracket of 19 and 24 have gathered in Lagos to work together and come up with ideas for addressing the scourges of Hypertension, hepatitis B, cervical cancer, and related diseases, believed to be among the leading causes of deaths in the country today.

 Holding at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research, NIMR, Yaba, Lagos, it is the 2024 Mega Designathon event, an initiative that leverages the power of innovations and community-driven approaches to enhance public health.

Some of the participants with the organisers

In an address, the Director General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako noted that the four-day event put together by a team of researchers from the institute, Washington State  University, and the University of North Carolina, with support from the Lagos  State government, would involve participants presenting four major projects that would impact the nation’s health landscape profoundly.

 Prof. Salako explained that the idea of the Mega DESIGNATHON event came about following findings that homegrown solutions remain the best strategy for tackling public health issues.

Prof Salako who congratulated the one hundred and forty participants for being selected out of over 1000 applications, advised them to put in their best in coming up with ideas that can potentially improve the nation’s health situation.

The DG explained that during the four-day event, participants would be expected to develop research-based solutions for increasing the uptake of vaccination and promote early screening for cervical cancer and HPV -related cancers as well as Hepatitis B.

He said ” As we delve into the intricacies of the Mega Designathon, we are met with four distinct yet interconnected projects, and poised to impact Nigeria’s health landscape profoundly. 

“The first project focuses on cervical cancer and HPV -related cancers -a scourge that continues to claim the lives of far too many Nigerian women and girls. Through interactive approaches and community driven initiative,we aim to increase HPV vaccination uptake and promote early screening, aligning with the ambition 90-70-90 cervical cancer elimination initiative.

“The second project shines a light on liver cancer and hepatitis B – a battle that rages on despite global advancements. By engaging mothers and families in prevention services and leveraging the power of outreach programs, we strive to improve vaccination coverage and curb the transmission of this deadly virus.

“The third project echoes the sentiments of the second project, emphasizing the importance of HPV vaccination uptake among newborns. Through collaborative efforts and human centered designs ,we aim to pave the way for a healthier future for future generations.

” And then,there is a last project – a call for action for our youths, our future leaders, to take the reins in the fight against HIV. With a focus on sustaining prevention programs and promoting youth -friendly sermons,this project empowers young minds to derive meaningful change within their communities”.

 According to Prof. Salako, at the end of the day, the groups with the best idea will be selected for future events where they will be camped for one month and enjoy the privilege of working with renowned medical researchers, policymakers, and others to perfect the ideas.

While advocating the need for the government to establish special funding for medical research to effectively address public health challenges in the country, he stressed the determination of his institute to collaborate with reputable organizations globally in championing innovative programs like the Mega Designathon.

“On behalf of the management and staff of the NIMR we welcome you to the Mega Designathon. The institute is a Federal Ministry of Health agency with mandate to conduct research into public health challenges and build capacity, underscoring what we are doing today.

“The project core team, consisting of researchers from the institute, Washington State University and the University of North Carolina, has conducted a series of Designathons during the implementation of ITEST and ACCESS -HPV projects. However, this is the first time in the institute and in Nigeria, a Designathon of this magnitude is being organized in one event. The Mega Designathon is jointly Organised by four National Institute of Health- funded projects in collaboration with the Lagos State Government and other national and International institutions.

“A total of 140 persons were selected out of over 1000 who applied to be part of this Designathon. I wish to inform you that you are one of the few privileged. While I wish you well, I also expect you to put your best foot forward so that the ideas you come up with can potentially improve Nigeria’s health situation.

” I sincerely thank our esteemed partners for their unwavering commitment to this course. We have created a platform where innovation thrives, creativity flourishes and solutions are born”, he said.

Contributing, a  Principal investigator in the initiative,  Prof Oliver Ezechi said the project is a learning point that Nigerians who are studying abroad should be patriotic enough to use the knowledge and experience acquired to improve their country. 

Prof Ezechi noted that since its debut five years ago, the project has produced world-class professionals and that this year’s edition holds greater prospects. Oliver is the Chief Leader, and co-principal contact for the 4 communities and 4YBY Groups, leading the local coordination of research and planning through the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research Network. Also by building and maintaining strong connections with researchers and policymakers involved with cancer control, HIV prevention, and hypertension and blood pressure awareness and prevention in Nigeria.

Dr. Juliet Iwelunmor, from Washington State University who was born and brought up in Lagos, opined that  Nigerians are doing well in many spheres of life, and should use their ingenuity to improve the health conditions of the country.

Given that, Dr. Iwelunmor encouraged those in the entertainment industry including musicians and comedians to beam searchlight on the major terminal diseases in the country, to raise awareness about them, thereby reducing mortality. A passionate advocate for health equity and Sustainability, Dr. Iwelunmor is widely regarded for understanding how to make evidence-based interventions last, reshaping the focus on community engagement using participatory research, and improving the dissemination of health information.

She is a Chief Dreamer and Principal Contact for the 4 Communities (including 4Mothers and Babies) and 4 YBY (including Music4Health) Group, leading its members and partners in its mission to advance lasting scientific insights that transform cancer control, HIV prevention in young people and increase awareness and prevention of stroke and hypertension in Nigeria 

The mega DESIGNATHON is similar to a hackathon and is a five-day interaction event in which teams from all over Nigeria will work together to design and present their self-devised solutions to social and health issues. The event seeks to allow participants to learn, design, and collaborate with community research experts, health leaders, and entrepreneurs.

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