Self-Taught Ghanaian Teen Codes His Way To Cancer Breakthrough

via Flickr

Brooke Brown
October 24, 2019

19-year-old Mustapha Diyanol Haqq of Ghana wanted to solve a problem - a big problem. Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in Ghanaian women, but, according to a study conducted by the Ghana Medical Association, data that could be studied and used to save lives is limited. 

Without any medical training, Haqq took on the challenge of creating a life-saving solution.

In his hometown of Kumasi, the mortality rate is high due to a lack of access to early diagnostic tests and treatment options. Hoping to use technology to address the issue, Haqq dove into the world of machine learning. Artificial intelligence, he thought, might be one way to help doctors detect breast cancer in patients. 

“I looked online for any free courses that could help me develop coding skills and completed as many as I could,” he told Tech TV Africa. But educating himself came with its own challenges. 

“[Africa] does not enjoy the fixed-line infrastructure of our more developed peers, and mobile internet can be expensive,” he confessed. “For me to afford the internet cafes where I learned to code, my parents had to make sacrifices.” 

Haqq kept striving to excel in his studies and soon his efforts were rewarded in a big way. Using machine learning - where a computer is programmed to find the chance of a certain outcome based on samples - Haqq’s predictive model was able to tell the difference between cancerous malignant breast tumors from non-cancerous benign ones, Face2Face Africa reported

His model can also predict whether there would be a reoccurrence of malignant cancer over “a period of time” - crucial information for planning out a patient’s treatment options. 

When asked what motivated the bright student to tackle such an important health concern, Haqq told SAP News that “seeing how the big tech companies used innovation to solve some of the world’s biggest problems made me realise how important it is to learn to code.” 

With breast cancer being the number one cancer impacting Black women on a global scale, his model’s success is positioned to encourage greater data collection to improve the model’s accuracy in a greater number of cases.

Haqq shared with Face2Face Africa his plans to tackle the concerns of hunger and food scarcity in Ghana and across the African continent. 

“I’m currently working on a machine learning and [artificial intelligence] model that can help reduce post-harvest losses and ensure the work our farmers do translates into food security for our communities.”

And when he’s not working on his next invention, he’s inspiring other African youth to explore computer science for themselves as a Ghana Code Club volunteer and African Code Week 2019 ambassador - both of which he considers to be an honor. 

He says, “Being appointed Youth Ambassador for ACW 2019 is a dream come true and a unique opportunity to inspire change on a global platform, encouraging young talent across the continent to learn digital skills and code the change they want to see in their community.”

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