By Paul NdihoThis a fascinating story about a young electrical engineer whose cutting edge innovation has won him the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
A South African has become the first person from his country to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize, after designing a Pele-Box smart locker system that dispenses medicines to patients with chronic illnesses.
Pelebox was created by electrical engineer, Neo Hutiri, who won $25,000 in prize money for the British-based award. Hutiri told VOA he decided to develop the technology after realizing patients were spending too much time in long lines, waiting to collect medicines at various healthcare facilities.
In 2014, Hutiri was being treated for tuberculosis and had to wait for at least two hours each time he went to refill his medication.
“I was trained to build solutions and product. The idea was to then say, ‘Can we build a product that is patient-centric?’ That speaks to us first as patient, while still adhering to all the regulatory requirements, and all of the, framework that the department of health wants to exist to improve access to care,”
The smart-lockers are regularly stocked with prescription drugs by health workers. Patients then receive a notification on their smart-phones and use an ATM-like machine and a personal identification number to access the medicine. Gontse is a pharmacist at Stanza Bopape II clinic in Pretoria.
“The machine makes it easier because some patients would say coming to the clinic is stress already for them – and then waiting again for medication, it’s another stress,”
South Africa launched a similar vending machine last year called the “ATM pharmacy” that also dispenses medicine in public hospitals. Hutiri says winning the award came as a surprise. He is now working on channeling the prize money into developing Pelebox further and manufacturing more units.
“It was very rewarding for us, it was very inspiring seeing that actually, the work that we do is on a global level and it can compete, it can scale…”It has multiple country applications. It was this, almost an endorsement of saying: we see you,”
Created in 2014, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is the continent’s biggest award that is dedicated to innovation in engineering. The prize encourages ambitious and talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all disciplines to apply their skills to develop elite solutions to local challenges, while highlighting the importance of engineering as an enabler of improved quality of life and economic development.