Local start-up wins continental innovation award The team behind the successful Zimbabwean start-up, Vaxiglobal

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke
Senior Reporter
ZIMBABWEAN digital health start-up, Vaxiglobal, which was named as one of three winners of the Koffi Annan Award for innovation in Africa, is geared to increase its footprint in Africa through integration with organisations such as the Africa Centres for Disease Control (CDC) to help ease immunisation schedules for African countries.

For being named among three winners of the prestigious award, including start-ups from Nigeria and Kenya, Vaxiglobal won itself US$250 000.

Vaxiglobal’s solution verifies vaccine delivery to improve vaccination data quality, minimise vaccine wastage and improve access to vaccinations.

The service is a camera-based, contactless, biometric product that works on mobile phones and utilises facial recognition to ensure the verified delivery of vaccine doses.

At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vaxiglobal worked with the Ministry of Health and Child Care as well as various laboratories such as Lancet Laboratories, to verify Covid-19 certificates for travellers to combat counterfeit certificates.

The company verified more than one million vaccine doses in a pilot project conducted during the global pandemic.

Vaxiglobal co-founder, Ms Tsitsi Sifiyali, said the plan was to ensure all vaccines delivered to Africa would reach their intended beneficiaries.

“Our vision is that by 2030, every vaccine dose distributed is linked to an individual. We intend to be integrated into the routine immunisation schedule of African countries and make vaccination easier for millions of Africans with no proof of identity,” she said.

“We also aim to work and integrate with platforms like Africa CDC trusted travel to verify vaccination certificates for Africans who don’t have smartphones.”

Ms Sifiyali said the product works by involving health workers to register people’s biometrics against a record on a data collection app with their vaccination history.

“The next time a beneficiary turns up, the health worker can pull up their record using face biometrics, ensuring that the right record is identified, and a continuum of care is maintained,” she added.

The Koffi Annan Award focuses on rapid digitisation on the African continent, and is aimed at contributing to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 3, “Health and Well-being”.

The call for the award was open to African social entrepreneurs and purpose-driven enterprises with a measurable social impact and sustainable business model.

Ms Sifiyali said Vaxiglobal went through a rigorous process to be

crowned winners of the award.

“There were 330 applications in total and we made it to the nine finalists. As finalists, we did a 5-day boot camp led by the World Food Programme which led to a pitch competition in which we were selected amongst the top three start-ups receiving grants.

“It was quite a journey of approximately six months till we were selected and received the award in Vienna, Austria,” she said.

The grant will help the company to adapt its solution to include more vaccinations on the application.

Dr Sifiyali said it would also enable them to purchase the hardware and fully setup in Zimbabwe, which would allow them to enrol every vaccinated Zimbabwean on the system to digitise the country’s vaccination space, eliminating the need to walk around with vaccination cards.

She called for other start-ups in Zimbabwe to seize the opportunity to build their innovations and make a difference on the African continent.

“There is a lot of focus on the African start-up landscape. Most of the attention has been given to Western Africa start-ups with millions of dollars invested over the past few years.

“Zimbabwean start-ups also need to ride on this wave and seize the opportunity. It is of utmost importance to pivot when the market conditions change. We have pivoted and refined our model twice, especially when the pandemic started.

“It’s also important to apply to as many international incubators and competitions as possible,” said Dr Sifiyali.

Perseverance, she said, was key to success in business.

“We have lost many competitions along the way but there are wins that come along too. We have not reached the top, but we will also continue to push and work hard, standing up when we fall.”

Vaxiglobal was formed in 2019 by Dr Sifiyali, a physiotherapist, Ms Integrity Mchechesi and Dr Tinotenda Simemeza.

Since inception, it has built relationships with the Health ministries of Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo and hopes to work with more countries in future.

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