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Lift as you climb

Posted by Merilyn Layne on July 18, 2022 in News
Bai Bintou Kaira (BEng'18)
Bai Bintou Kaira (BEng'18)

Bai Bintou Kaira (BEng’18) did not always know that she wanted to study engineering. Her plans for applying to medical school changed when she started university in Canada. She transferred to Dalhousie University from studying microbiology and immunology and was looking for advice on what to study when friends and family started suggesting that she apply to study engineering.

At first, Bintou was hesitant saying “I don’t know if I want to do engineering, I want to go to medical school.” But the consensus of those around her was that she could do anything with a degree in engineering.

Bintou started Dalhousie in the Faculty of Science in 2013. She had bought her books and was ready to go, but during the second week of classes, she got a call from the Faculty of Engineering about an opening. Bintou called on family, as she often does, and asked for advice. When she asked her mother if she should switch to engineering her mother assured her that she would catch up.

The decision to switch to engineering resulted in lifelong friends, new skills learned, and the launchpad for Bintou’s career. “My decisions have never been very fully defined. I always based it on certain values or principles, and I rely on a support system, like my family and a few people outside of my family. I call them the board of directors of my life” shares Bintou on her decision-making process.

At Dalhousie, Bai Bintou Kaira valued tutoring students and mentoring youth of African descent through IMHOTEP Legacy Academy (ILA) and the Black Student Advising Centre. She was also an executive of the African Students Society. Finding ways to give back was very fulfilling for Bintou she shared, “With very limited time, I wanted to choose something very intentional where I knew I could make a difference.” No matter how tough of a day she had, she could still help students with a passion for science and math.

While providing support to the younger generation, Bintou was supported by Black faculty members at Dal. “They made themselves accessible to me to ask questions and seek out opportunities that I didn’t know of.”

Sparking change in an area of need

Bintou is passionate about quotes, and often peppers them into conversation. One quote that had a particular impact on her says “I do not accept what I cannot change. I change what I cannot accept.” from Angela Davis. In this, Bintou recognizes that we cannot wait for someone else to change things; she wants to be the one to do something about it.

Education is one of Bintou’s focuses for change. “Education has the potential to change communities. I believe that I’ve been afforded the life that I have, and been given these opportunities because of my education,” adds Bintou. “It could help a lot more people.”

Bintou was able to combine her interest in medicine and engineering by co-founding GAPhealth Technologies Inc referred to as GAPhealth. GAPhealth is a company focused on using technology to solve health challenges in Africa.

Finding that phones were the most accessible tool for individuals in the area, Bintou and the GAPhealth team based their technology in the mobile space. Special considerations were implemented to tailor the technology to the realities of the region and to ensure a very user-friendly experience.

The mobile application hosts telemedicine and electronic health records for users. There is also a provider portal that gives the medical provider access to telemedicine, the ability to prescribe medicine to patients and view medical records. Additionally, the patient portal acts as a comprehensive care medical app where you can book appointments with your providers, whether virtual, in person, or over text. Users can also set personal medication reminders.

This is a personal area for Bintou, who before her mother’s passing took on the role of a care supporter in tracking the medical information and medicines associated with her mother’s diabetes.

“The whole point of this app is to give patients the ability to own their health. They can share all, or parts of their records with any provider in the network,” shares Bintou. This is a task that is a common accessibility barrier between providers.

Another barrier that GAPhealth helps overcome says Bintou is where some people may not want to go to the hospital. The app now provides them with an alternative for getting quality care within their community. “Increasing accessibility of care makes a tremendous impact,” she adds. “We know once people are healthy that has a ripple effect on their kids, their families, and their economic gaining power. We think about health and have a holistic approach to care.”

“Long term, we are trying to solve the biases in health.”

As large of a project GAPhealth is, Bintou works full-time with a potash mining company in Saskatchewan, while also completing her MBA. Time management is an essential part of Bintou’s day; She follows the Eisenhower Matrix which was recommended by a mentor— and current Dalhousie Engineering professor—which orders work from most to least urgent. Important items get seen to immediately and everything else gets schedule. She adds her own tweaks to this system saying, “something that I recognize, is that I am important and urgent too. There are things that I cannot cancel, like talking to my family, going to the gym, and eating healthily.” These items are important to her for both physical and mental health. Bintou quickly learned that she was better off making time for things that ‘feed her soul’.

The modern engineer

In reflecting on what features contribute to the next generation of working engineers, Bintou says “I think the modern engineer is a better representation of our community. I think people should be able to Google an engineer and find variations; ones that look like them, ones doing different things. It’s also having a way of connecting to those people.”

“I think it is difficult to be what you can’t see,” adds Bintou on the value that comes from having visible differences represented in the industry. Further to that, Bintou says it’s important that people or communities that are experiencing a problem are also a part of creating the solution.

“A modern engineer is someone that defines their path; whether on the road less travelled or sometimes there’s no trail at all.”

Bintou believes it would be a person who lifts as they climb, pulling from a quote from Mary Church Terrell, a well-known Black American activist. “It should always be easier for the next person. We all have a voice, and the ability to help and provide opportunities to help others.”

Bai Bintou Kaira has an exciting year ahead. With GAPhealth expanding in Ghana and then Gambia. She’s excited to share the app with the world. “We are hoping to learn and develop the app further with expansions to other parts of Africa.”

“Our hope is that GAPhealth and healthcare is accessible to people. Quality healthcare is a right. People should not have to choose between going to work and seeing a provider. Opportunities should not be limited based on where you live.”

In terms of her career, Bintou is excited to be in her new role of Operation Insights, where she uses technology to improve potash mining operations. She plans to be celebrating the completion of her MBA in May of 2023.

“If there’s anything I’ll be doing no matter what, is that I will constantly be learning, trying to live consciously, using my voice to speak up for injustice, and providing opportunities to others.”