The award winning hearScreen mHealth solution has won the first Philips South African Innovation Fellows Competition.

The Competition was launched in August this year in collaboration with the Innovation Hub, a subsidiary of the Gauteng Growth Development Agency (GGDA), with the goal of unlocking local talent and addressing regionally relevant challenges in primary healthcare.

hearScreen was awarded for its solution that makes widespread systematic hearing testing possible by providing a cost-effective, sustainable smartphone application that provides clinically valid tests and can be operated by generalist community healthcare workers along with cloud-based data management and referral systems linking patients to services.

“We are extremely honoured that Philips has recognised our hearScreen mHealth solution as an innovation that can help many people live more fulfilling lives,” said competition winner and Audiologist, Prof De Wet Swanepoel.

“Winning the Philips Innovation Fellows competition will help us make widespread systematic hearing testing possible, particularly within underserved communities, through this cost-effective, sustainable solution that can be operated by laypersons in primary healthcare contexts,” said Swanepoel.

hearScreen was selected as the winner from a list of top five finalists and will receive R 200,000 as a research and development grant towards the development and production of the technology. In addition, Swanepoel will also undergo a one year fellowship during which Philips will assist him by offering business advice on how to launch, market and sell his product. During this time, he will be mentored by Philips Africa Head of Research, Eddine Sarroukh.

The top five finalists included notable names from the South African eHealth space, such as start-up LookSee.do founder, Dean Hodgskiss, whose solution aimed to increase the capacity of healthcare workers and medical equipment at primary healthcare sites through the utilisation of a mobile communication app specifically developed to operate effectively under the challenging African telecommunications conditions.

The Innovation Competition was launched following the results of Philips SA’s African Innovation Research study aimed to uncover what South Africans think of innovation, what they perceived as barriers to innovation and areas where successful innovation could improve lives. The study indicated that 60% of South Africans consider themselves to be innovators.

Recent data from WHO estimates that there are 360 million persons in the world with disabling hearing loss. The prevalence of disabling hearing loss in children is greatest in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Approximately one-third of persons over 65 years are affected by disabling hearing loss with the prevalence being highest in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. With less than one hearing health provider to every million people in Africa, prospects for affected individuals are dire. Access to systematic hearing screening services is also unavailable in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“We were delighted by the response to the competition and the quality of work submitted by the top five finalists was truly inspirational. We are now looking forward to turning De Wet Swanepoel’s winning entry into a healthcare solution that will make a real and impactful difference in the lives of impacted people across Africa,” said Senior Vice President and CEO Philips Africa, JJ Van Dongen.

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