Nigerian Girls Win Silicon Valley Contest For App That Spots Fake Drugs

Nigerian Girls Win Silicon Valley Contest For App That Spots Fake Drugs

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A group of Nigerian girls has taken home the top honors at a Silicon Valley tech competition, even though some of them were just introduced to the world of technology months ago.

The group of  Nigerian teens created an app that detects fake drugs. Called FD-Detector, the app helps users detect fake medicines by using a drug’s barcode to check out the authenticity and expiration date.

This app could save lives. “Counterfeit drugs  continue to cause serious public health problems in many countries around the globe, particularly in the African countries which are their major consumers,” ResearchGate reported. Earlier this year, Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control destroyed counterfeit drugs worth nearly $10 million.

And for some of the girls on the team, like Jessica Osita who “had never used a computer, sent an email or even browsed the Internet,” this project was their first tech experience. The team consists of five teenagers who came to California to show off their invention before winning the 2018 Technovation Challenge. “Despite their limited tech knowledge, the Nigerian teens learned how to build a mobile app from scratch by using open source software from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” CNN reported.

The team, which calls themselves Save-A-Soul, included Promise Nnalue, Jessica Osita, Nwabuaku Ossai, Adaeze Onuigbo and Vivian Okoye. The young women spent five months researching and building the app in Nigeria. Save-A-Soul beat teams from the U.S., Spain, Turkey, Uzbekistan, and China to land the top spot in the junior category. The girls qualifying initially for the competition out of more than 2,000 apps submitted.

“I feel very excited and relieved. I’m extremely proud of myself,” Osita, 15, told CNN from San Francisco. The girls faced skepticism about being a woman in tech. “Some people told me ‘you’re a girl, why are you going into tech?'” said Osita. “At first my parents didn’t understand what I was doing, but it’s only recently that they see what I’m doing. They are very, very proud.”

Osita’s brother died after fake drugs were administered to him following an accident. “My brother died from fake drugs. I’m very motivated by the death of my brother to solve this problem,” she said.

The girls’ mentor Uchenna Ugwu introduced them to computers and coding through her Edufun Technik organization, which teaches STEM to underprivileged children in Nigeria.

“Ugwu says her organization has taught approximately 4,800 school children since 2014 — over 60% of whom have been young girls — as a means of closing the widening gender gap in STEM education,” CNN reported.

“I’m overwhelmed. It was a beautiful experience for them. They have experienced so many firsts. They were entering a flight for the first time. The girls were scared and overwhelmed. They asked me ‘How can we compete with these countries who have been using tech for a very long time?’” recalled Ugwu to CNN. “I told them ‘it’s not how long ago you started, but how well you do.’ I’m so proud of them because they were so determined to learn,” she said. “They were not the most talented in the coding class but they were the most determined. They stuck with the classes when a lot of their peers dropped out.”