iAccelerator contest returns, puts focus on mental issues, disability

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iAccelerator contest returns, puts focus on mental issues, disability
iAccelerator contest returns, puts focus on mental issues, disability

Africa-PressRwanda. Imbuto Foundation on Friday, November 13 launched the third edition of iAccelerator, a youth-driven programme aimed at encouraging young people to create innovative solutions to issues related to sexual and reproductive health.

During this edition, the innovation accelerator has put more focus on issues of mental health and accessibility of adolescent sexual and reproductive health information and services for youth with disabilities.

Launched in 2016, the initiative is backed by the Ministry of Youth and Culture, Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Through a series of pitches, young innovators develop solutions to address pressing issues and compete for seed funding of up to $10,000 designated to finance their innovations.

Tantine (Auntie), a digital app that won the first edition of iAccelerator, has so far proven the initiative’s worth.

Dr Sylvain Hirwa Muzungu who developed Tantine while he was a medical student says the platform has garnered more than 1 million visitors since creation in 2017. He started out Tantine as a page on Facebook but with the competition prize money, he built a Tantine mobile app and a website.

“The majority of users – 40 percent are looking for information related to reproductive health and sexuality – and 30 percent want to learn about contraceptives,” Muzungu said.

The app allows young people aged between 10 and 24 years to ask questions about reproductive health. Muzungu added that it has helped in debunking myths surrounding sexuality among adolescents.

In her remarks in a virtual launch and opening of Youth Forum Series, Imbuto Foundation Director General Sandrine Umutoni noted that available resources tend to leave behind adolescents living with disabilities, while mental issues also mark a rising trend.

She underscored the necessity of spurring inclusive solutions especially during a critical period of time like the health crisis induced by the current coronavirus pandemic.

“This is the right time to create solutions to such pressing problems especially during this difficult period when the world is facing Covid-19 crisis for instance has exacerbated the need for mental health,” Umutoni said.

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed groups already with special needs such as girls and people with disabilities further to the margins.

Different speakers including UNFPA and KOIKA country representatives emphasized the urgency of partnership among stakeholders to overcome multilateral impacts of the pandemic.

Brown Niyonsaba who is unable to hear and speak spotted the absence of comprehensive sexuality education among disabled adolescents.

“When you are disabled, for instance when you can hear and use sign language, you try to acquire information from your peers which is often inaccurate,” she said.

“When you go to a health centre, health workers don’t know sign language and you have to go with a parent to interpret for you and would sometimes say what you did not say,” she added.

Dr Daniel Ngamije, Minister of Health who was the guest of honor at the event highlighted existing efforts to tackle issues around adolescent sexual, reproductive and mental health. He stated that additional initiatives are in the pipeline.

“We would like to have at least one person at every health center who can use sign language,” Ngamije said.

“Soon we will open a mental health care centre in Kigali which will help citizens in diagnosing and treating early warning signs related to mental problems. People with signs such as sleeplessness can go to the centre and get medical assistance as early as possible,” Ngamije added.

Addressing the young people in attendance, Minister of Youth and Culture Rose Mary Mbabazi urged the youth to develop self-confidence and be forward-looking in order to avoid temptations which lead to negative effects such as unwanted pregnancy among teenagers.

IAccelerator has supported seven innovative solutions targeting sexual and reproductive health. More than 25 young entrepreneurs have benefited from the $70,000 in seed capital. According to the Imbuto Foundation, tailoring this year’s edition on inclusion and mental health was informed by a survey conducted in September.

Applications are open until December 13. Then 40 applicants will be selected to undergo preliminary pitching and boot camp before 10 finalists compete for the winner position on January 19, 2021.

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