Kenya’s Covid innovations get WHO recognition

Monday, November 2nd, 2020 00:00 |
James Nyakera demonstrates how his automatic hand washing machine works at Kairo shopping centre, Murang’a. It is one of the innovations by Kenyans. Photo/PD/Wangari Njuguna

Mwangi Mumero

Kenya is one of the four African nations with the largest number of Covid-19 related innovations, a new World Health Organisation (WHO) analysis notes.

The countries with the most innovations were South Africa (13 per cent), Kenya (10 per cent), Nigeria (eight) and Rwanda (six).

The analysis notes that the pandemic has galvanised the development of more than 120 health technology innovations that have been piloted or adopted in Africa.

The study of 1,000 new or modifications of existing technologies that have been developed worldwide to target different areas of the Covid-19 response, finds that Africa accounts for 12.8 per cent of the innovations.

Among the focus areas were surveillance, contact tracing, community engagement, treatment, laboratory systems and infection, prevention and control.

“Covid-19 is one of the most serious health challenges in a generation, but it is also an opportunity to drive forward innovation, ingenuity and entrepreneurship in life-saving health technologies,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Across the continent, 57.8 per cent of the technologies were ICT-driven, 25 per cent were based on 3D printing and 10.9 per cent were robotics.

“It is great to see the youthful energy of the continent fired up to fight Covid-19.

Solar-powered automatic handwashing tools, mobile applications that build on Africa’s rapidly growing connectivity–these home-grown innovations are uniquely adapted to the African context,” observed Dr Moeti. 

Among the new ICT-based innovations include self-diagnostic tools, contact tracing apps and mobile health information tools.

A study by the World Bank group reports that African countries invest far less in innovation than developed countries and the continent is not living up to its potential.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for African nations to boost their investments in innovations, according to experts.

Ordinary people

“The pandemic has put a fresh impetus on the need to invest in innovation and to put the right policies and strategic frameworks in place to unleash African ingenuity on the world,” said Dr Moeti, adding that investing in innovation yields huge dividends.

WHO recommends greater investment in ICT infrastructure, robotics, artificial intelligence, drones and mechatronics as well as putting the right policies in place to boost creativity and entrepreneurship and to bolster university-led research. 

  In Kenya, the pandemic spurred different innovations, leading to the development of new technologies. 

 A number of local hand washing innovations were made by ordinary people to ensure that people kept high levels of hygiene.

 A group of 16 students drawn from Kenyatta University developed a prototype ventilator within seven days.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) commended Kenyan laboratory technologists at Kenya Medical Research Institute for developing local testing kit for Covid-19.

The automated modern testing kits can test up to 35,000 samples in 24 hours. Kenya’s testing capacity is currently at an average of 600 tests per day.

Kenya also started producing face masks and Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs)  manufactured locally. 

Kitui County Textile Centre became  a 24-hour production house where 30,000 pieces of masks are being produced in a day. Eldoret-based Rivatex is also running mass production of face masks.

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