Innovators Find New Ways to Combat COVID-19
Eric Acquah founded an agricultural drone company in Ghana three years ago, but when COVID-19 struck his home country, he pivoted from spraying crops to spraying markets.
His company, AcquahMeyer Drone Tech, has disinfected at least 38 street markets. He said 20 drones can spray a couple of acres in minutes. He also plans to use drones to disinfect classrooms.
“We targeted the market areas because in Africa they are open-air and always overpopulated,” he told Reuters. “So we thought if the virus is going to spread fast, it will be from them.
“Just closing the borders and quarantining the whole country wouldn’t make sense unless there is a mass disinfection of places where people gather in larger numbers.”
Acquah is one of many African innovators helping to fight the pandemic, which has infected 1.26 million people and killed 30,065 across the continent as of September 1, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Just before Ghana went into lockdown in late March, shoemaker Richard Kwarteng and his brother Jude Osei built a contactless solar-powered hand-washing machine in five days. It uses motion sensors to dispense a small amount of soapy water, then allows 25 seconds for washing in accordance with guidelines before rinsing.
“This is a system we created to help stop the COVID-19,” Kwarteng said in an Instagram video. “In my dream we have this on all our streets.”
The video went viral.
Two days later, Ghanaian government officials contacted the brothers about replicating their creation around the country. The Ghana Standards Authority certified the device for mass production after expediting and waiving safety testing costs.
It even captured the attention of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who commended the inventors in a nationally televised address, saying: “Necessity, indeed, is the mother of invention as the Ghanaian sense of enterprise and innovation is beginning to be felt.”
Among the pandemic interventions appearing around Africa:
- In Kenya, students from Kenyatta University developed the Tiba Vent, a ventilator they say will solve the shortage caused by inflated commercial ventilator costs. They plan to produce 50 a week now that it has passed government quality testing.
- In South Africa, artificial intelligence entrepreneur Natalie Raphil is using 3D printers to make 100 masks a day; CapeBio Technologies developed a test kit that produces results in 65 minutes; and Discovery Health Insurance partnered with Vodacom to create an online platform and pay for 5,000 doctors to give free online screenings to anyone.
- In Senegal, students from the Dakar Polytechnic School built a robot they call Doctor Car designed to remotely take patients’ temperatures and deliver medicine and food.
- In Nigeria, mobile payment platform Paga eliminated fees for customers and small retailers to avoid handling cash and cards; and 20-year-old engineering student Usman Dalhatu is working with the government to produce and export a portable ventilator he invented.
Expanding his reach to neighboring countries in West Africa, Acquah said his drone company is negotiating with Togo and Benin to disinfect public spaces. He is sensitive to their limited national and municipal budgets.
“Right now, we are not looking to make profit,” Acquah said. “We started this company in the first place to give back to Africa.”