From hackathons to health clinics: East African digital innovation toward Universal Health Coverage

This social anthropological research project examines the design of digital health technologies from and not simply in Africa. Drawing on largely ethnographic methodologies, the research follows East African, particularly Tanzanian, scientist-entrepreneurs who are using their computer and data science skills to design healthcare technologies for their fellow citizens. 

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Photo: Thomas Neumark

The project is part of the European Research Council-funded project "Universal Health Coverage and the Public Good in Africa", led by Ruth Prince, and based jointly at the Institute of Health and Society and the Centre for Development and the Environment.

About the project

Historically, academic attention has been directed largely towards the transfer of technology from the global North to regions such as East Africa, thus missing the vibrant forms of technological innovation that has taken place in such places over time. In recent times, East Africa has also become an increasingly important global hub of digital innovation, in areas of renewable energy, mobile telephony, and in new healthcare technologies. 

The research examines how hopes and valuations around different sorts of digital health technologies and data and its futures are played out in diverse spaces, from health clinics to hackathons. It foregrounds the Tanzanian technologists who are developing new mobile and data-driven healthcare technologies, from deep learning malarial diagnostics to Bayesian symptom assessment checkers. 

The aim of this research is to understand this innovation landscape in Tanzania, looking at the ‘leapfrogging’, futural orientations of these technologists and their fellows across the world, as they grapple with working within healthcare infrastructures that lack some of the most basic elements. This is a healthcare infrastructure that also has a longer history of donor-funded development and global health in the East African region, and which has begun turning increasingly to the promises of the market.


June 2019 – May 2023


European Research Council – via Institute of Health and Society, University of Oslo

Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo


Published Oct. 14, 2020 11:01 AM - Last modified Oct. 28, 2020 4:15 PM