“A once-in-a-lifetime event”

Adolescents and young adults (14-24 years old) in low and middle-income countries are often neglected in designing youth-friendly health services, especially HIV self-testing and preventive services.

The Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR), 4YouthByYouth (4YBY) teams, Saint Louis University researchers, and University of North Carolina researchers organized a designathon, a 72-hour time-bound, co-created event where participants develop solutions to a problem. Designathons promote youth participation and youth ownership of health services.

Each team pitched their ideas to judges. (Victor Ojo, seated second from left)

This year’s designathon on April 8-10, 2022 was the third such event in Lagos. The first designathon was held in 2019 and focused on improving HIV self-testing services. This year, designathon 2022, was centered on designing services or programs that promote Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) awareness and use to prevent HIV infection among youths in Nigeria. Youth from all over Nigeria were supported to join the designathon. All participants received a commendation certificate and mentorship from public health, communications, and other leaders. A distinguished panel of independent judges assessed all submissions, providing feedback to all the teams and cash prizes for the top three teams. The seven top-ranked teams will also be invited to join in a training bootcamp to learn more about research methods, PrEP services, and implementation research.

PrEP4Youth Designathon teams in Lagos, Nigeria

A Youth Ambassador

I participated in the 2019 series of participatory 4YBY activities focused on improving HIV self-testing for Nigerian youth. I am now a supervisor in the ITEST study and joined the designathon as a youth ambassador. I remember my first experience venturing into entrepreneurship and designing innovative solutions for creating youth-friendly health services in Nigeria. I remember how anxious I was, bold, and a bit scared of the unknown since it was one of the first health bootcamps in Nigeria at the time. I found out about the event from my team lead, who saw the advert post online and applied. 4yby Designathon is a place of fun, growth, learning, and brainstorming sessions to help create effective solutions to address barriers facing adolescents in the fight against HIV. My teammates and I ideated for 72 hours to help develop new solutions to improve HIV self-testing among youths in Nigeria. We had mentors come from proven fields in the health care sector and other entrepreneurship sectors to help guide and tailor our ideas to address the subject. This was a useful journey for me in terms of career development. We were carefully ideating, learning, and watching other teammates tailor their ideas for driving self-testing among youths.

Check-in and Orientation

Each designathon team arrived on Thursday, where their body vitals were checked, and each participant was paired in twos and checked into a room in preparation for the next day. On the first day of the event, each team was separated by different colors of branded 4yby T-shirts. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and souvenirs were shared with every participant, mentor, and judge. The event started with two-panel sessions, the first-panel session, was anchored by youth ambassadors, where mentors in the healthcare space were interviewed, and they also shared insights on the challenges facing the use of PrEP services by youths. This was an eye-opening event as it made youth participants streamline their ideas to help tackle these challenges. The second-panel session allowed youth ambassadors to share their previous experiences at the designathon and proffer useful tips to help each of the team.

Ideas and Prototypes

The second day of the event housed the main event, where each team started working on their ideas with the materials and supplies given to them to work on their idea and prototype. Mentors were shared across each team to help identify challenges and how best to overcome them. The day ended with a mock pitch which was conducted by youth ambassadors who acted as mock judges and gave feedback to each team.

The Pitch Session

The third day, which was the final event, featured a pitch session, award ceremony, and prizes. Each team was made to pitch their ideas to the judges for five minutes and the top seven teams will proceed to the bootcamp stage to further improve on their idea.

Looking back, one beautiful experience about the designathon is that it makes you meet young vibrant Nigerian youths, who are creative, excited, and full of ideas from all over Nigeria. Imagine being in a hall of exceptional, gifted young Nigerian youths who believe in change, and who are intentional about making Nigeria a success–that kind of excitement. The exchange of ideas from incredibly young and gifted youths, the mentoring, the networking, and the friendship bonds created are what makes this a thrill and a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Written by Victor Ojo and reposted from UNC’s Institute for Global Health and Infectious Disease news page.

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