If there is one thing that is a constant in Africa, it is a healthy dose of positivity - one of the many reasons we still thrive in the midst of chaos. Today, we journey to the land-locked country filled with precious gems, Uganda, where we speak to a young woman who is creating positive experiences out of her own negative experience.
Shamim Nabuuma Kaliisa is the 25 year-old Founder and Executive Director of Chil Artificial Intelligence Lab [Chil AI Lab], which is using technology to change the lives of women in Uganda, through early cancer detection. She describes herself as a social entrepreneur, innovator and cancer survivor.
Fondly referred to by locals as “mama cancer”, she is a 2020 Forbes 30 under 30 recipient, winner of the Takeda Young Entrepreneur Award 2018, Young African Entrepreneur Award 2018, Social Impact Finalist AWIEF Awards 2018, has received an Honourable Mention at the Maathai Impact Award 2019, and was chosen among the top 10 artificial intelligence companies founded in Africa by Google for start-ups. She has also been endorsed by the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
The inspiration behind Chil AI Lab
In sub-Saharan Africa, cervical cancers are the second leading cause of cancer among women and the leading cause of female cancer deaths. Caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a large percentage of fatalities result from diagnosis at an advanced stage where the cancer is untreatable. Late detection is also due to cervical cancer not always displaying symptoms.
Shamim started Chil AI Lab as a direct result of her personal experiences which drove her to change things. Shamim lost her mother to cervical cancer at the age of 13, and barely into her 20s, she was diagnosed with breast cancer herself. Having seen and felt the devastating impact of cancer on families’ lives, she has poured her energy into ensuring women are better informed and enabled access to crucial early screening services. She began cancer screening services for women as she understood that if a woman or a mother is in pain, the children will be affected psychologically, which they would hold on to even into their adult years.
Chil AI Lab provides cancer screening services to women in both villages and towns. They organise camps in villages where they educate women on the early detection of cancers. Her motto is “prevention is better than cure”, as she believes that health education is the key to saving women from certain diseases such as cancers. The earlier you get the treatment, the better - if you treat cancer early, your life will be saved. Chil AI Lab is on a mission that no woman dies from late cancer detection - breast, cervical, or any other cancers that affect women.
In 2019, the company turned over an annual revenue of US$300,000 and the kits were in use across 25 countries. Less than two years later, the company has evolved into CHIL AI Group and is building out products in other sub sectors including agritech, fintech and drone technology, targeted specifically at women.
Business lessons from an entrepreneur
Shamim has learned to never give up. When she started her company, she had a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of people told her that she wouldn't make it. However, she believes that if you are determined and you know where you are going then you will succeed.
Shamim believes that it is better to start with what you have, as one who has failed is much better than one who does not try at all. She believes that failure is necessary in order to succeed.
Shamim’s dream is for every woman to access the services of Chil AI Lab, but there are financial constraints - there needs to be better collaboration between the public and private sectors, in order to access more educational resources and more funding.
COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on global health yet it has fueled a phenomenal growth in her business, as its services are largely technology based. The company uses AI services to provide automated consultations using drones or motorbikes. When movements in Uganda were restricted, patients had no choice but to adopt the remote based technology, which caused a drastic adoption in services, and an increase in the number of customers they serviced.
Shamim survived cancer and has been able to change the lives of so many women due to early detection. She believes that saving their lives means that they are still able to contribute to their communities, and stay alive for their children. “Mothers are responsible for the nation so we have to empower them and make sure they stay alive through preventative measures. Let’s change lives together.”
Chil AI Lab was a part of the Afritech Innovation Prize. They have been provided with access to international lawyers and highly requested tech credits.
Connect with Shamim via LinkedIn or Twitter.