By Nnamdi Odumody
African women are amazing. From Queen Amina who fought invaders that threatened Zaria to Princess Inikpi and Queen Idia who paid the ultimate sacrifices to save their respective kingdoms, women have always stood in the gap when demanded. Across the continent, a new generation of women is innovating, and creating disruptive solutions to some common problems.
Brenda Katwesigye was shortsighted. This compelled her to start Wazi Vision which provides affordable and accessible eye care services to children. Her affordable eyeglasses, made out of recycled plastics by female artisans in Uganda, reduce the cost of eyeglasses by 80 percent while increasing accessibility for people. Also, she managed the development of a mobile application that uses virtual reality to perform visual acuity tests, bringing eye testing closer to people in areas that cannot afford expensive eye testing equipment.
Beth Koigi witnessed water scarcity in her native Kenya. This led her to start Majik Water which harvests water from air and converts it to drinking water using solar energy. Her device which won first prize at the EDF Africa awards this year could provide a solution for 1.8 billion people which are estimated to have water shortage globally. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 319 million people do not have access to clean and safe water. Out of this amount, 12 million people don’t have access to adequate clean drinking water, and over the next decade water shortages are expected to get much worse.
Majik Water uses desiccants such as silica gels to draw water from the air. The gels are then heated up with solar power to release the water and then collect the released water vapour, making it energy efficient. The current system can generate up to 10 litres of filtered water per day with the team looking to scale up to 100 litres at a cost of only 0.08 pounds per 10 litres. According to her, there are six times more water in the air than in all the rivers in the world. Majik’s Water device can work in low humidity of 35 percent and above in most and semi arid areas in Kenya.
Nneile Nkholise is the founder of IMed Tech, a biotechnology company, specializing in the design and manufacturing of custom made medical solutions to improve lives of Africans with 3D printing. Their products are produced with the goal of creating innovative medical solutions to help people requiring custom made medical prosthesis, bio-implants and other medical solutions to assist in enhancing lives and improving the overall health of Africans. She also founded 3DIMO that optimizes injury detection and prevention using athlete specific biomechanics data.
Dr Omolabake Adenle, founder of Ajala Studios, created voice recognition and speech synthesis software that can understand and digitize spoken African languages. The solution can synthesize speech from African languages and present them as digitized text. Digitizing African languages in this way allows Africans to interact with hardware devices such as mobile phones and digital services such as call centre applications by speaking their local languages. The software can be integrated into a wide range of devices and third party software applications.
Philipa Ngaju Makobore from Uganda invented an Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed (ECGF) infusion set, a medical device designed to accurately administer intravenous (IV) fluids and drugs by controlling the rate of fluid flow based on feedback from a drop sensor. Over 10 percent of children admitted to East African hospitals need immediate infusion therapy. Findings from a trial indicates that over infusion in children increased the absolute risk of death by 3.3 percent at 48 hours. Erroneous delivery rates can result into serious adverse effects. The ECGF solves this problem as it is very easy to operate and has key safety features which include alarms for rate of infusion (rapid or slow), total volume (over or under) and faulty sensors. A battery utilizing a hybrid (AC main and solar) charging bed powers the device. The ECGF has the potential to save lives by providing accuracy and safety at 8 percent the cost of a brand new infusion pump.
Across generations and in our own time, African women continue to lead. Even in this new era, their works continue to inspire.