Lilly Mensah, GPJ Ghana
 
SPECIAL REPORT

Young Ghanaian Tech Enthusiast Creates App to Ward off Diabetes

 
Ghana

Raindolf Owusu founded a technology company that builds websites and develops software for commercial clients while attending university. Since graduating, he has developed a Web browser and operating system used by thousands of Africans. He also creates software and applications to help people manage their health wisely.

ACCRA, GHANA – His father bought him a computer when he was 10. It was a standard model for the time, but looking back, Raindolf Owusu thinks of it as ancient technology. Even so, that was all Owusu needed to develop a keen interest in software applications and become one of the leading brains behind Ghana’sadvancement in information technology.

Owusu instantly recognized the capacity of the technology.

“I was amazed at the features of the computer,” he says.

It wasn’t long before he realized that if he studied software engineering, he could create his own programs.

Owusu got an early start. Just 24, he already has four years of experience as a software development entrepreneur. Owusu founded an IT company, Oasis Websoft, specializing in commercial website and software development, in his first year studying computer scienceat Methodist University College GhanainAccra, thecapital.

“I was tired of theoretical computer science,” he says. “I became more interested in practical application of software systems.”

A laptop and Internet connection were all he needed to start the business. He ran his company from his campus cubicle, juggling schoolwork and attending to clients until he graduated from college last year.

Since then, Owusu developed Anansi Browser, touted as Africa’s firstWeb browser, and Africa’s first operating system, Anansi OS. The browserhas been downloaded more than 5,000 times, according to Softpedia, a software and applications download website. The Anansi OSis free and comes with LibreOffice, an office suite.

These days, Owusu’s company makes money by building websites and applications for clients, but it also develops software and applications that aim to solve key problems in society – namely, programs that help people manage their health.

“Our main focus is building software technology, mobile and Web applications that will solve problems here in Africa,” he says. “We want to build technologies that can be replicated in other developing nations.”

While still a student, Owusu created a free Web application, Dr. Diabetes, to help raise awareness about diabetes and help people assess their risk of the disease.

The app, which is not available for mobile devices, asks users how often they eat sugary foods, how often they drink alcohol, and how often they exercise. Based on their answers, the app tells users if they are at risk of developing diabetes, and what they should do to prevent the disease.

The app has a small following – just an average of 20 users per week and 85 users per month. But it’s an indication of how Owusu says he views the power of technology – and the power of technology innovators like himself.

Other parts of the world have lots of online resources that help people learn about and manage diabetes, Owusu says. That’s not the case in Africa, where diabetes is a growing problem.

Nine percent ofGhana’s 25 million people have diabetes, according to the 2012 National Policy for the Prevention and Control of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases.

Some 330,000Ghanaians had undiagnosed diabetes in 2013, according to the International Diabetes Foundation. Some 8,500 people died from diabetes that year.

The incidence of non-communicable diseases like diabetes are expected to rise because of aging, rapid urbanization and unhealthy lifestyles, according to the national policy document.

Amid the marketing and investment to raise awareness about malaria and other diseases, Owunsu saw an opportunity to educate people about what he calls a “slow killer.”

The disease isn’t “getting the attention it deserves,” he says.

The program is earning praise from users.

“It saves time and energy,” says Blessing Atongble, an Accra resident. “With a click of the button, you can easily tell whether you are at risk of having diabetes or not. I prefer that to going to queue in the hospital, after which lots of money is taken from you.”

Health experts warn against over-reliance on the app.

While the app is a good way to educate the public on healthy lifestyle choices, users of the application should also go for medical tests, says Assumpta James Opoku, a nurse at the Tema General Hospital in Accra.

“You can’t know your status without a laboratory test,” she says.

Owusu says he worked with three doctorsin creating the app. Still, he says, it only assessesone’s risk of diabetes; it’s not meant to provide a diagnosis.

“It is important for people to go to the hospital to seek guidance and treatment, and I urge people to do so,” he says.

Dr. Diabetes was nominated as the health application of the year in 2013. In the same year, Legacy&Legacy, a local company, named Owusu as one of the people under 40 creating change in their communities.

Dr. Diabetes is just one of several products Owusu’s company has developed to addresshealth problems in Ghana and Africa at large. Owusu and his team are working on a program called Bisa, which means “Ask” in Ghana’s Twilanguage. Users will be able to interact online with medical practitioners. Patients who fear going to the hospital because it carries a stigma, or who want to avoid long lines, will be able to consult doctors privately through the app. Owusu believes the app will reduce the self-medication rate, save time and money, he says.

The three doctors participating in this program offer their services for free, Owusu says.

At the height of the Ebolaout breakin West Africa in 2014, which caused more than 10,000 deaths, Oasis Websoft developed Ebola Ghana Alert, a Web and mobile app that provided information and updates about the viral disease, although there were no confirmed cases in Ghana.The app has had 3,000 unique views since it was launched in August 2014, Owusu says.

Over time, Owusu plans to roll Dr. Diabetes, Bisa and two other apps into one to enable users to access all four at the same time and place. When a user downloads Bisa, he or she will have access to apps on sexually transmitted diseases, Ebola, diabetes and general health updates, he says.

“Bisa will make valuable health guidelines, information and tips for proper health management readily available to the public,” he says.

Owusu’s business partner, Harriet Adansi, says she is impressed with Owusu’s drive.

“He is a great leader who is intelligent, action-driven, diligent, focused and very determined in what he does,” Adansi says.

She describes Owusu as a conscientious member of society, who feels strongly that he must be part of a solution to the problems of his community – a community that includes all of Africa.

Owusu’s innovations have not been without challenges. He says he needs more money, and more skilled Web developers.He has just three employees now. But the business is profitable, he says, thanks to the apps he has built.

Owusu says he is grateful to his father, a tech enthusiast, for the computer gift that introduced him to the technology world.

“I have told him several times that thanks to that computer, I now make a living and also create change as a technologist,” he says.