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Engineering the future: meet the Africa prize shortlist innovators | Global development

From a solar-powered crib that treats jaundiced infants to fibre created from water hyacinth that absorbs oil spills, innovators from 9 African international locations have been shortlisted for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2022 Africa prize.

This yr half of the shortlist of 16 are girls, and for the first time it consists of Togolese and Congolese inventors. The entrepreneurs will endure eight months of enterprise coaching and mentoring earlier than a winner is chosen, who will obtain £25,000, and three runners-up, who win £10,000 every. All the initiatives are sustainable options to points equivalent to entry to healthcare, farming resilience, decreasing waste, and vitality effectivity. The Guardian spoke to a few of the shortlisted candidates.

Advantage Oboro, Nigeria

A woman smiles for the camera, leaning against a backdrop with inspirational quotes
Advantage Oboro, who co-founded Tiny Hearts Know-how and developed Crib A’Glow, a solar-powered crib that treats jaundiced newborns with phototherapy. {Photograph}: Benson Ibeabuchi/GGImages/RAEng

Quickly after her son, Tonbra, was born in 2015, Advantage Oboro’s mom seen the child’s eyes and pores and skin seemed yellow and so they rushed him to hospital in Yenagoa, in the southern state of Bayelsa. However three of the hospital’s 5 phototherapy items for jaundiced infants have been defective and the different two have been in use.

Tonbra was finally discovered a spot in a phototherapy unit however, when there was an influence lower, he developed extreme jaundice. “He needed to have an emergency blood transfusion, which was traumatising. We had to purchase blood from an exterior supply, which made us nervous. It was actually powerful,” says Oboro, 32, a graphic artist and product designer.

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Her boy recovered, however the expertise impressed Oboro and her husband to type Tiny Hearts Technology, the creators of Crib A’Glow, a solar-powered transportable phototherapy crib that treats and screens jaundiced newborns. To date, about 300,000 infants have been handled immediately with the cribs in hospitals and houses in Nigeria and Ghana.

As we speak, the Tiny Hearts group contains engineers, designers and paediatricians, and likewise educates well being staff and pregnant girls about jaundice, which Oboro believes has saved many extra infants. “I didn’t spot the signs myself,” she says. “Like many new moms, I didn’t find out about jaundice.”

Newborns develop jaundice when their ranges of bilirubin – a pure substance fashioned when purple blood cells break down – are abnormally excessive. It will possibly result in loss of life and likewise trigger mind harm, cerebral palsy and listening to loss. Though it is not uncommon – affecting about 60% of newborns worldwide – gadgets to deal with infants with blue-light remedy are costly and unsuitable for poorly resourced hospitals with unreliable electrical energy.

About 100,000 deaths from jaundice are recorded yearly and lots of extra infants endure everlasting damage.

It took Oboro 5 makes an attempt to good the design for Crib A’Glow, which runs on solar energy, is foldable and prices a couple of tenth of phototherapy gadgets utilized in developed international locations. The sunshine rays give attention to the child’s physique to make sure most effectivity, and utilizing LED lights avoids pores and skin burns, dehydration and rashes that may be frequent side-effects of such gadgets, she says.

Virtue Oboro and a nure with two babies in the cribs in a hospital ward
Advantage Oboro, proper, together with her Crib A’Glow items at a hospital in Yenagoa, Nigeria. The gadget runs on solar energy, may be folded up, and prices a couple of tenth of the phototherapy gadgets utilized in developed international locations. {Photograph}: Benson Ibeabuchi/GGImages/RAEng

“Not solely does the crib present entry to phototherapy, it gives phototherapy that’s sustainable and lasts lengthy sufficient for the child to get well. This additionally reduces congestion in hospitals in Nigeria as a result of infants get well extra shortly,” says Oboro, including that the cribs may be moved subsequent to their moms’ beds throughout remedy.

“Due to Covid, different causes of toddler mortality, equivalent to jaundice, haven’t been given a lot consideration. However Covid didn’t make the different issues go away.

“The crib will cut back toddler mortality and disabilities in Nigeria, and make the job of healthcare staff simpler,” says Oboro, who’s growing a solar-powered incubator and hopes to type partnerships with development companies and donors to take her improvements throughout the continent. The crib is already utilized in 70 hospitals throughout Nigeria.

Oboro and a colleague set up a crib
The crib, which is utilized in 70 hospitals in Nigeria, cut back toddler mortality and disabilities in Nigeria, and make the job of healthcare staff simpler,” says Oboro {Photograph}: Benson Ibeabuchi/GGImages/RAEng

“We import a excessive proportion of medical gadgets – however it is very important have homegrown options which are accessible and reasonably priced for each group right here. Healthcare suppliers can shortly present suggestions on homegrown gadgets,” she says.

“The toughest half for us was acceptability. At first, it was tough to persuade folks the crib can be efficient,” Oboro says, “partly as a result of I’m not from a medical background. But it surely’s as if a battle was fought and received – now my son and I really feel like winners day by day.”

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Divin Kouebatouka, Republic of the Congo

Divin Kouebatouka, wearing a Green Tech Africa shirt and cap
Divin Kouebatouka, from the Republic of the Congo, got here up with an answer to resolve two environmental issues. {Photograph}: Victoire Douniama/GGImages/RAEng

So harmful is the water hyacinth plant to lakes and rivers in Africa that fishermen name it “the curse”, says Divin Kouebatouka, a 32-year-old engineer who’s the first Congolese innovator on the shortlist.

“After I returned to my mom’s village on the banks of Lake Djoue after learning engineering overseas, I noticed an invasive plant that had actually invaded the lake, blocked marine navigation and asphyxiated the fish,” he says. “It had halted fishing exercise, which is the principal financial useful resource of the village.”

Kouebatouka, a Colorado State College graduate who says he’s motivated by defending the atmosphere after being struck by the affect of the local weather disaster on the Congo at a younger age, started to consider potential advantages of the water hyacinth plant, which is native to the Amazon basin however now discovered throughout the world and whose speedy unfold has been intensified by world heating.

“We studied the properties of hyacinth and located it’s wealthy in nitrate, which is nice for compost; wealthy in protein, which is nice for animal feed; and it has a excessive absorbency,” he says. “It may additionally clear up one other environmental drawback: the leakage of oil – the principal explanation for marine air pollution in the Congo. So we determined to create a ‘bridge’ between two environmental issues – every one ought to be an answer to the different.”

His group at Green Tech Africa developed a strategy to flip the plant’s stems into extremely absorbent fibre that may suck up oil from the floor or water, or plug an oil leak in a container. As we speak greater than 10 firms purchase the product, referred to as Kukia, which might maintain as much as 17 instances its weight in hydrocarbons, the compounds that type the foundation of crude oil. In 2018 the concept was nominated for the African entrepreneurship award.

The Republic of the Congo has large reserves of crude oil and natural gas. Oil spills are frequent in industrial processes and the automotive and delivery industries. Kukia is offered to petrochemical and air pollution management firms and the public by gas stations and wholesalers.

Divin Kouebatouka with a water hyacinth.
Divin Kouebatouka with a water hyacinth. The younger engineer and his group discovered a means to make use of the invasive plant’s absorbent properties to soak up oil spills. {Photograph}: Victoire Douniama/GGImages/RAEng

The venture has additionally offered employment for native individuals who gather the plant and produce the fibre, incomes greater than the common agricultural wage. There are virtually 900 collectors, 80% of whom are girls.

“We collected greater than 5,000 cubic metres of water hyacinth – equal to 2 soccer stadiums of water hyacinth – on the banks of the Congo River, which made it potential to revive the waterways, promote the resumption of fishing and restore financial actions for a inhabitants of greater than 100,000 folks,” says Kouebatouka.

“Elements of the plant that aren’t helpful for the fibre are used elsewhere – roots are composted and leaves became animal feed. As soon as the stem fibre has been used on an oil spill or leak, it may be repurposed as a gas supply by cement factories,” he says.

Kouebatouka and another in his team put the processed water hyacinth into bags.
Elements of the water hyacinth that aren’t absorbent, equivalent to the roots and leaves, are became animal feed. {Photograph}: Victoire Douniama/GGImages/RAEng

For Inexperienced Tech Africa, the subsequent step is to determine a biorefinery to provide vitality and a variety of merchandise from the invasive crops. “We’ve turned a botanical drawback into an answer for an environmental drawback, creating employment and abilities development alongside the means. Kukia is straightforward, scalable and efficient, and may make an infinite distinction in Congo and worldwide.”

Norah Magero, Kenya

Norah Magero poses in an alleyway among breeze block buildings
Norah Magero wished to search out an engineering answer to the lack of appropriate storage for vaccines. {Photograph}: Alissa Everett/GGImages/RAEng

“I get emotional once I take into consideration what number of kids missed out on vaccinations due to Covid,” says Norah Magero, a mechanical engineer. “The pandemic put big strain on hospitals and healthcare staff. In Africa, 23 million children [under the age of one] didn’t get vaccinated due to Covid.”

In Kenya, the pandemic highlighted the lack of “cold-chain” infrastructure for storing vaccines, which 33-year-old Magero skilled. “Quickly after I had my youngster in 2018, I moved from Nairobi to a rural space. I realised it was actually laborious to get her vaccinated. There have been so many blackouts and ice-packs melted, so vaccines have been now not viable.

“Digging deeper, I realised the drawback was not simply the lack of dependable energy, but in addition that girls who had gone a few times to get the vaccines may not return a 3rd time. It is perhaps costly or tough to journey and they also simply gave up. I may need had the similar thought myself – that is simply too tough.

“I’m an engineer and an vitality supervisor and so I requested myself: why isn’t there an engineering answer to this drawback. I’m obsessed with citing know-how as a result of it performs an enormous function in closing the gaps. But it surely needs to be reasonably priced.”

The organisation Magero based, Drop Access, hopes to shut the hole with VacciBox, a cell solar-powered fridge that safely shops and delivers temperature-sensitive vaccines to communities and hospitals the place there’s a lack of cold-chain infrastructure.

“Hospitals are in a race towards time with vaccines and that’s the case in most rural communities,” she says. “We want an answer to cease hundreds of individuals lacking out on life-saving vaccines.”

Norah Magero with a VacciBox
Norah Magero with a VacciBox, a cell solar-powered fridge that shops temperature-sensitive vaccines. {Photograph}: Alissa Everett/GGImages/RAEng

The photo voltaic fridge has a data-monitoring facility and battery backup so it doesn’t run out of energy. Costing €800 (£680) to provide, the 40-litre field may be carried on motorbikes, bicycles and boats.

“To date, we have now piloted the fridge at two rural healthcare services. The primary is at Merrueshi village well being centre in Kajiado county in Kenya, situated in a Maasai conservancy. The ability faces frequent energy outages and used to make use of a soda fridge to retailer vaccines. It’s the nearest well being centre for a inhabitants of at the least 400,000.

“Each Wednesday, Maasai girls would stroll for miles to deliver their kids to be vaccinated. At present, with VacciBox, the well being centre can conduct field-based and door-to-door vaccinations, which has elevated their month-to-month vaccination numbers by 150%.”

A solar panel outside a clinic made of corrugated iron in rural Kenya.
A photo voltaic panel conserving VacciBox cool and vaccines protected to make use of at a medical centre in Makueni, which is miles away from the nearest mains electrical energy. {Photograph}: Alissa Everett/GGImages/RAEng

The second trial is at the Usungu dispensary in Makueni county, 14 miles (22km) from the nearest electrical energy grid. The well being employee used to move vaccines twice per week from the nearest hospitals and return what was left at the finish of the day or when ice-packs started to soften. With VacciBox, the dispensary can inventory as much as 1,000 vaccines per week with out worrying about the vaccines spoiling.

Magero says thus far the group has carried out 2,100 vaccinations, principally of kids, and intends to develop into Covid vaccinations. “The AstraZeneca vaccine operates inside that 2C to 8C [35.6F-46.4F] temperature vary we cowl,” she says.

By 2024, she hopes to have produced 1,500 items and to have vaccinated 3 million kids. The field may also be used to move blood and tissue and may be monitored remotely earlier than deciding to ship out a technician if it stops working. An app helps maintain observe of the situation of the unit in addition to the inventory and distribution.

“All through this course of, I’ve been by a variety of feelings – from frustration to scepticism to pleasure,” says Magero.

“I had the feeling that I can’t simply vaccinate my daughter – she wants classmates and mates. So that is for the moms – and for all of Kenya.”

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