Africa's tech scene tackles virus

20 May 2020 | Technology

We are making machines with locally available material. - Gordon Ogweno, Professor: Kenyatta University

Fran Blandy - Watching from afar as much of the world was brought to its knees by the coronavirus, African scientists, engineers and innovators have turned to homegrown solutions to prepare for the worst case scenario.

By the time the virus hit Africa, where cases have risen relatively slowly, images of overwhelmed hospitals and stories of health workers strapped for protective gear had been streaming in for weeks.

Mehul Shah from Ultra Red Technologies, a 3D printing company in Nairobi, said he and his partner Neeval Shah quickly realised they could be "first responders" in producing locally-made equipment.

In only three days they put together a working design for 3D-printed face shields made up of a visor that clips onto a plastic sheet. They currently produce around 500 a day.

"It's very important that we can show Kenyans that we can do this here and we don't need to rely on importation. We have got the innovative know-how and the means to get this done here," he told AFP.

The team is also helping produce components that would allow ventilators to be used on more than one patient, as well as printing parts for locally-made ventilators.

While Kenya only has 912 cases and 50 deaths after a little over two months, "we are preparing for the worst case scenario," Mehul said.

He said it was "a first" to see manufacturers in Kenya and even worldwide collaborating so much.

"All the companies are looking at how they can use their resources to help out. All the competitors who would be fighting against each other are all coming together."

In Benin, the start-up Blolab - a digital fabrication laboratory - has also been printing 3D face shields.

Tracing apps

Developers in Kenya's thriving tech scene are among several on the continent working on contact tracing apps.

FabLab, an innovation hub in western Kisumu has developed an application called Msafari (Safari means journey in Swahili) which can track passengers on public transport.

With it, passengers entering a minibus taxi - known as a matatu - can input a simple code on their phone along with the vehicle registration number.

"If one of those passengers tested positive we are now able to trace all the contacts who checked in on that particular vehicle," said Tairus Ooyi, the lead app developer and data scientist at FabLab.


Another busy area of innovation has been the production of ventilators, which have been in short supply even in rich countries as Covid-19 patients needing oxygen have swamped hospitals.

Most African countries have only a handful of the machines and 10 have none at all, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Kenya, engineering students in collaboration with the medical department at the Kenyatta University, produced a low-cost ventilator at a tenth of the price of an imported machine - estimated at US$10 000.

Doctor Gordon Ogweno, a medical professor at the university said Kenya had about 50 working ventilators for a population of more than 50 million.

"We are making machines with locally available material ... pandemics can come and go but other conditions also require critical care," he said.

The ventilator is undergoing clinical trials.

In Ghana, the Academic City College in Accra and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi managed to produce a ventilator costing between US$500 and US$1 000 which takes only an hour to assemble.

A group of Rwandan biomedical scientists at the Integrated Polytechnic Regional College in Kigali have also been testing a locally made prototype ventilator.


Meanwhile in Somalia, which has limited capacity to respond to its growing caseload, 21-year-old Mohamed Adawe has invented an automated resuscitator.

While doctors normally need to pump oxygen via an Ambu bag valve mask by hand on patients struggling to breathe, Adawe's contraption - made up of a wooden box, pipes and an electric system - pushes oxygen from an air tank into a mask placed over the patient's mouth.

"I saw people having difficulties in breathing and many have died because they could not get a machine to help them provide vital oxygen," said Adawe, who is studying public health.


Aside from locally-made items - African countries are also employing other technology to tackle the virus.

Rwanda last week began using four humanoid robots in coronavirus treatment centres to minimise human to human contact. They can screen temperatures and monitor the status of patients.

In Ghana, the US-based company Zipline which uses drones to ferry medicines, blood and vaccines to avoid poor roads, has begun to transport coronavirus tests.

"The government told us that their biggest challenge is that the virus has spread out of the cities, they have suspected cases popping up in the rural areas and the logistics from the rural areas to the cities are very difficult," said Zipline CEO in Ghana, Daniel Marfo. – Nampa/AFP

Similar News


Concerns over 5G rollout

2 days ago - 01 June 2020 | Technology

ELLANIE SMITWINDHOEK Motions against the implementation of 5G mobile technology by the City of Windhoek, through an agreement with Huawei Communications, were referred back to...

MTC clashes with City over 5G

3 weeks ago - 13 May 2020 | Technology

OGONE TLHAGEWINDHOEKMTC is seeking legal advice, amid questions being raised about why the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran) issued a class comprehensive telecommunications service...

Mobile app to help farmers

4 weeks ago - 05 May 2020 | Technology

ELLANIE SMIT WINDHOEK A young mobile application developer has designed a smart farming app called Agrotech, which can help farmers in growing crops.The app sends...

MTC denounces 5G conspiracy theory

1 month - 07 April 2020 | Technology

OGONE TLHAGEWindhoekMTC has rejected accusations that it used the cover of darkness and the coronavirus lockdown to install two 5G towers in Windhoek's Auasblick suburb...

Helicopter crashes at Tsumeb

2 months ago - 25 March 2020 | Technology

OGONE TLHAGE TSUMEB The pilot of a privately registered helicopter was lucky to escape uninjured when it crashed at Tsumeb yesterday morning. ...

081Every1 phase 2 kicks off

3 months ago - 26 February 2020 | Technology

MTC yesterday announced that phase one of its 081Every1 network project has been completed, and that phase two kicked off at the beginning of February.Providing...

Samsung unveils Galaxy Z Flip

3 months ago - 13 February 2020 | Technology

Samsung Electronics on Tuesday unveiled a foldable smartphone shaped like a large makeup compact and put 5G mobile network capabilities into all of its other...

MTC battling software bug

4 months ago - 08 January 2020 | Technology

Frank SteffenMembers of the public have been complaining about making payments to mobile operator MTC without their accounts being credited since 2 January. During telephonic...

Technology progressions

5 months ago - 06 December 2019 | Technology

Elizabeth JosephFleet managers and individual car owners have much more to consider than a driver resting their foot on the clutch, or one who simply...

Cran opens up on 5G

6 months ago - 12 November 2019 | Technology

Before any attempts are made to roll out 5G internet technology in Namibia, Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (Cran) CEO Festus Mbandeka believes there is...

Latest News

Sean K part of Covid-19...

WINDHOEK EXPRESSWINDHOEKNamibian crooner Sean K is one of 11 African artists who worked on a collaborative song to thank healthcare workers for their commitment and...

2020 Mining Expo and Conference...

15 hours ago | Business

Phillepus Uusiku The Mining Expo and Conference that was scheduled for 2-3 September 2020, after having been postponed from 22-23 April, has been cancelled. The...

NBL ready to deliver

15 hours ago | Business

Phillepus UusikuLife is slowing returning to normal as Namibians navigate the country’s gradual reopening following an easing of trade restrictions which were necessitated to combat...

Treasury demands reports of lockdown...

15 hours ago | Economics

OGONE TLHAGEWINDHOEKThe ministry of finance will demand full reports from public entities, ministries, agencies and offices detailing procurement expenditure incurred during stage one of the...

Over 120 lose jobs at...

15 hours ago | Labour

KENYA KAMBOWERUNDUAbout 120 people lost their jobs yesterday after a fallout between Chinese-born business magnate Stina Wu and a subcontractor that labour inspectors found to...

Namibia’s food security paradox

15 hours ago | Agriculture

Venomukona Tjiseua, sustainable agriculturalist: “The government must revisit its priority list and place agriculture at its correct spot.”With jobs disappearing, incomes drying up and savings...

The contest for hearts and...

15 hours ago | Opinion

Nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight, when everything remains seemingly unchanged.The above quote by...

Indemnity forms a matter of...

15 hours ago | Education

OGONE TLHAGEWINDHOEKWith some learners expected to return to schools today, education ministry executive director Sanet Steenkamp says parents will have to trust that schools have...

SA loosens lockdown to revive...

15 hours ago | International

South Africa sought to revive its stuttering economy on Monday with a partial lifting of its coronavirus lockdown, letting people out for work, worship or...

Load More