AFRICANS GET INNOVATIVE IN THE FACE OF A GLOBAL PANDEMIC

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has come on board to support the continent as it battles the coronavirus, hosting the first of a series of virtual sessions in May for innovators to showcase their solutions.

Keeping the Covid-19 pandemic at bay, has sparked innovations across the African continent – from homegrown solutions to modern tech that can be adapted for many countries.


“Innovation propels human advancement. In times like these when we are confronted with a major public health emergency such as the Covid-19 pandemic, we know that our hope for a better tomorrow lies in finding creative, ground-breaking or avant-garde solutions,” says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Eight innovators from Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Guinea and Kenya presented their solutions, which are already being implemented, and have the potential to be scaled up across the region. They include public transport contact tracing apps, dynamic data analytics systems,
low-cost critical beds and testing booths.

While the devastation of the pandemic cannot be downplayed, Africa Day which was celebrated online this week due to most countries still being under some level of lockdown, is just another example of the continent adjusting with the times. In recognition of Africans doing it for themselves, 4IRSA has decided to highlight just some of the innovation we are seeing on the continent.

INNOVATIONS

In Senegal, a robot doctor has been manufactured. “Docteur Car” is a multifunctional robot that will enable frontline workers to treat patients without contacting Covid-19. According to the Polytechnic Institute of Dakar, this doctor even speaks several languages. Healthcare workers load the robot with medication or food, and pilot it manually or automatically to patients in their hospital rooms.

While not as high-tech, in Kenya a nine-year-old boy has invented a hands-free hand-washing device. It is operated by using foot pedals and is made entirely out of wood. According to media reports Stephen Wamukota came up the idea after observing people at his local market, watching a TV programme where they assemble toy cars, and hearing the country’s President Uhuru Kenyatta speak on how the coronavirus can infect others by touching surfaces.

The invention requires no electricity and has two pedals. Pushing down with your left foot sets off a mechanism that distributes liquid soap from a squeeze bottle. Then pushing down on the second pedal with your right foot, turns a water container which allows you to rinse the soap off your hands. Another container collects the dirty water so that it doesn’t spill at your feet.

In Ethiopia, another young innovator is making a difference. Ezedine Kamil, who is an 18-year-old natural science student, has 30 inventions under his belt already, with 13 of them patented by the organisation, SaveIdeas.

He has now built a ventilator after going online and searching open source manuals. His invention uses a plastic pouch known as an Ambu bag, a mechanical ventilator and a screen operated from a cell phone. After successfully testing a prototype, he started producing and delivering the new machines to his local community.

In Ghana, there have been a number of developments as result of the pandemic. They include tech company Redbird which developed technology that can help pharmacies diagnose and monitor chronic and tropical diseases by saving user information on an app.

The company has now added a function that helps people diagnose whether they have the coronavirus. Users can input symptoms into the app and keep track of their movements to determine if they have been in contact with someone who has been infected by the virus. The country is well known for transporting blood samples and medicine by using drones. Now Zipline is also using drones to carry samples from suspected patients to laboratories in cities for testing.

In Nigeria, online health platform Wellvis has created the Covid-19 Triage Tool. It is a free online tool to help users self-assess their coronavirus risk category based on their symptoms and their exposure history. Depending on what they answer, users are offered remote medical advice or redirected to a nearby healthcare facility. In South Africa, a number of corporations have come on board to ease the burdens presented by Covid-19.

They include 4IRSA’s founding partner Telkom, which worked with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, to develop a novel track and trace solution to identify people who may contracted the virus. Another company is South African Breweries, which donated 100,000 face shields from recycled beer crates. It has also, like many other liquor businesses, used alcohol to manufacture much needed sanitisers.

While the true impact of the pandemic is yet to be felt and a vaccine yet to be developed, may these few innovations mentioned in this article serve as inspiration and confirmation that human ingenuity is a powerful tool, if it gets the right support.

By: Amy Musgrave