Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi Awards MIT Solve Prize For Maternal and Newborn Health to AI Startup, Ubenwa Health

1 November 2020
Company’s machine-learning technology saves newborn lives by detecting early signs of birth asphyxia 

ABU DHABI, UAE – The Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court today announced Ubenwa Health as the winner of its Health Workforce Innovation Prize for this year’s MIT Solve 2020 Global Health Challenge. Ubenwa’s smartphone app screens for birth asphyxia by using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze a newborn’s cries. Birth asphyxia, a condition when a newborn lacks adequate oxygenation at birth, is responsible for the disability and death of nearly 2 million newborns globally each year and is one of the top three causes of newborn mortality.

Solve, an initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), advances innovative, entrepreneurial solutions to address the world’s most pressing challenges. As part of the initiative’s Maternal and Newborn Health Challenge, The Abu Dhabi CPC’s Health Workforce Innovation Prize focused on solutions that expand and support the health workforce for newborns, pregnant women, and new mothers in low-income countries, where newborn mortality rates are 10 times those in higher-income countries. This disparity is consistent with infant deaths due to birth asphyxia, with data revealing that mortality rates from the condition are up to 12 times higher in low-income countries.

The prize is supported by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and part of his commitment to global health and dedication to disease elimination. It aligns with The Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court’s portfolio of global health initiatives and its commitment to support frontline healthcare workers with the resources needed.

Nassar Abdul Raouf Al Mubarak, Senior Director, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Court stated, “The UAE’s leadership firmly believes in the tremendous prospect of AI and its potential to transform healthcare. A company like Ubenwa is exciting in their use of this innovation to improve lives and give health care workers access a critical newborn assessment tool.”

In the last few years, the UAE has taken a strong leadership role in investing in the field of AI and supporting further innovation. In fact, in 2017 it was the first country to name a minister for artificial intelligence. In addition, just last year the country launched the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence (MBZUAI). Based in Abu Dhabi, MBZUAI is the world’s first graduate-level, research-based AI university.

Ubenwa founder and AI lead, Charles Onu, explained “We’d like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi for his recognition and support. Today there is inadequate access to early screening for birth asphyxia. Low-income countries are most impacted by this condition, representing the highest rates of newborn mortality. We know that early diagnosis of birth asphyxia is key to survival. However, this requires expensive equipment and specialized personnel unavailable in much of the world. Through this financial support from the Abu Dhabi CPC ,we will continue to improve and scale Ubenwa’s technology and ensure that every newborn is given the chance of a healthy life.”

Ubenwa is currently collecting clinically-annotated cry data through clinical studies in Nigeria and Canada to further develop and validate their machine-learning technology’s algorithms. Funds awarded by the Abu Dhabi CPC’s Health Workforce Innovation Prize will go into expanding the sites of the clinical studies in order to ensure that the data target is met timely. CPC funds will also enable the Ubenwa team to begin hardware design and pilots of a crib microphone monitoring system.

This is the second year the CPC has participated in MIT Solve’s Global Health Challenge. Last year it awarded “The Innovating Together for Healthy Cities Prize” to Faircap Clean Water. Faircap’s water purification device provides a solution for the billions of people around the world without access to clean water.