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South African innovator’s “Pelebox” wins Africa’s top engineering prize

This medicine dispenser could help reduce waiting time in South Africa, where long waiting periods demotivate medications.



South African innovator's “Pelebox” wins Africa’s top engineering prize
(File photo)

Neo Hutiri was diagnosed with tuberculosis in January 2014 and needed medicines monthly in order to treat it. This translated to long hours of standing on the queue waiting for his turn at the hospital pharmacy in Johannesburg.

Standing on the queues inspired Hutiri, an electrical engineer, to come up with the Pelebox Smart Locker, a digital dispenser installed in hospitals and stocked with routine medicines by healthcare workers. In comparison, Pelebox dispenses medicines within just 36 seconds.

The dispenser is stocked with medicines for patients with persistent conditions such as HIV, tuberculosis and diabetes which would compel patients to collect medicines on a regular basis. The Tswana word ‘pele’ “has three meanings: quickly, in front and first.

The idea was to build a solution that’s patient-centric and ensures people are served quickly. For developing Pelebox, Hutiri won the 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation from Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering. The prize is worth £25,000 ($31,000).

South African innovator's “Pelebox” wins Africa’s top engineering prize

South Africa has 4.3 million people on antiretroviral therapy; the largest program in the world according to the World Health Organization. However, about 3 million more people living with HIV are not on the therapy.

In a country like South Africa, long waiting periods could demotivate patients from sticking to their prescriptions, a situation that would be worrying.

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Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women’s Day

“Dakar is among the top 10 digital cities in Africa, with incubators for start-ups.” -Delphine Remy-Boutang

News Central



Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day
(File photo)

Barcode health cards, mobile apps for victims of violence and an online legal platform are just some of the ideas showing the direction of female digital pioneers in Africa, with Senegalese innovators in the spotlight.

The Senegalese capital, Dakar this month hosted the first African edition of “Digital Women’s Day”, which for the previous seven years had taken place in Paris.

More than 650 people and 26 corporations attended the event where innovators displayed technology creations, often to tackle daily problems women face and inspired by their own circumstances.

Organisers say Dakar — one of the first African cities to offer free internet access — has ambitions as a budding start-up hub with plans to create 35,000 direct jobs in new technologies by 2025. 

Related: An app is helping reunite South Sudan’s ‘lost’ children with their families

“Dakar is among the top 10 digital cities in Africa, with incubators for start-ups and major investors,” said Delphine Remy-Boutang, the event’s founder.

Among the participants was Nafissatou Diouf, who at 22 already heads a start-up with 10 employees.

Her firm, Senvitale, creates QR codes for wristbands, pendants and cards enabling doctors or first responders to instantly access patients’ health data.

Moved by her aunt’s sudden death after a failed treatment of an allergic reaction, Diouf gave up her studies in industrial chemistry and food technology to launch her digital enterprise.

Senvitale, launched in 2017, won best Senegal start-up prize last year for its free platform, which also allows patients to manage their medical appointments.

Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day

Related: Using drones to provide life-saving medication in Ghana

The concept was to “help doctors and emergency workers… to act quickly”, the young Senegalese businesswoman said.

For now, the project is waiting on authorisation from the Ministry of Health because of the sensitive data that the company handles. But Diouf says she is already considering development of the business internationally.

Victims of violence –

Diariata N’diaye, a 36-year-old artist who grew up in France in a Senegalese family, turned her focus on another problem — helping to fight domestic violence and abuse of women.

Through her activism travelling to schools in France to educate young people, she became aware many victims did not realise there was help out there. 

In 2015, she launched a mobile application “App-Elles” — a play on words in French that translates into “She-Calls” — that allows victims to alert three contacts in case of danger. It records and transmits the sound of the incident to the recipient and sends the GPS location.

Dakar becomes female technology hub after hosting first Africa-based Digital Women's Day
Photo credit: Jérôme Fouquet/Ouest-France

“I began with a very basic observation: everyone has a phone and so if there is going to be a tool for victims, it should go through their phone,” N’diaye said. 

An optional wristband, costing 30 euros ($33), can be used to issue the alerts via a Bluetooth link to the mobile, so the victim does not have to draw attention to herself by switching on her phone. The free platform also allows abused women to contact associations or learn about their rights.

The App-Elles creator claims 8,000 downloads of its application and a presence in 10 countries, including France, Canada, Morocco, the United States as well as Senegal.

“We have a lot of people using App-Elles when they go out,” says N’diaye. “Women who start early in the morning, who come back late at night.”

Legal resources –

When Nafissatou Tine, a 34-year-old Senegalese-French lawyer left Brussels in 2016 to settle in Dakar, she struggled to find reliable sources of information on Senegalese law.

So with the Sunulex platform, which brings together all of Senegal’s digitised laws as well as decisions of jurisprudence, she sought to fill a gap for law students, lawyers and even citizens.

Related: Technology is helping Kenya’s herders adapt to climate change

Sunulex has placed 800 texts on a publicly accessible free platform — a small portion out of the total of 60,000 — which gets 1,700 hits a week.

The company, which already has eight employees, hopes to launch a version next month that will pitch to 10 countries in French-speaking Africa. 

“It’s an African platform made with African resources, by Africans, for Africans, and for lawyers around the world,” she said.

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Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo’s megacity

During peak time, commuters jostle to board creaking buses or taxis at the risk of tolerating body odour reeking from fellow commuters

News Central



Commuting nightmare takes over Kinshasa | News Central TV
Yellow taxis clog up the streets of Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

Cities almost everywhere have transport problems — just ask people stuck in traffic jams or overcrowded trains for their opinion.

But daily travel in Kinshasa, capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), may well have the best claim on World’s Worst Commuter Nightmare.

In a mega-hub of 13 million, the ride to work is a battle with choked, pot-holed streets and jam-packed buses, yellow taxis and motorbikes, to the backdrop of blaring horns, pollution, hawkers and accidents.

In short, a transport hell…and in a sauna-like heat.

Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo's megacity
Yellow taxis clog up the streets of Kinshasa, capital of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). (Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

During peak time, commuters jostle to board creaking buses or taxis where they will become intimately familiar with the anatomy and odour of their fellow humans for the next hour or two.

“Every day, we’re packed in like sardines. You get there exhausted,” sighed law student, Esperant Kashama. 

At rush hour, it is not uncommon for average speeds to be well below 10 kilometres (six miles) per hour.

In poorer areas such as Lemba, Matete and Ndjili, it can take up to two hours to reach Gombe, the city’s business heart.

Weak infrastructure –

Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo's megacity
(Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

Like Africa’s two other megacities, Cairo and Lagos, Kinshasa has failed to successfully manage the twin challenges of a growing population and weak infrastructure.

The task is only going to get worse in the coming years, for, by 2030, Kinshasa will rank as the 10th most populous city in the world, according to UN estimates.

Lacking a suburban rail network, the city is fatally dependent on the road. 

President Felix Tshisekedi has floated development plans to widen vital bridges spanning the Congo River, but the scheme is already under fire, with critics saying they encroach on public spaces.

His initiative adds to a string of attempts to free up the capital’s clogged roads.

These include solar-powered aluminium robots equipped with cameras and lights to regulate the flow of traffic and send real-time images to police.

The government has also purchased dozens of buses from foreign firms to make the ride more comfortable — if not necessarily speedier — for commuters.

In the past, battered local buses were nicknamed “Spirits of Death” due to their shoddy maintenance. 

The new vehicles have been baptised the more optimistic-sounding: “Spirits of Life.”

Kickbacks –

Some transport startups have been working to address the issues, with the development of Uber-style taxi apps.

One of these, Ubizcabs, is squarely aimed at the middle classes with air-conditioned saloons costing around $40 for a run to the airport — out of reach for the vast majority of Congolese. 

“We began with the middle class. We wanted to keep the same standards with different models of vehicle in order to meet the needs of the whole population,” company head Patricia Nzolantima told reporters.

The authorities have also attempted a crackdown on dodgy cab drivers in a bid to reduce robberies and abductions.

Kinshasa: Commuting nightmare takes over Congo's megacity
(Photo by John WESSELS / AFP)

Last year, owners of taxis and taxi-buses were ordered to repaint their vehicles yellow and make sure licence plates were clearly visible.

Now the city has a wave of yellow vehicles, but Sonia — not her real name — was still a victim of a crime.

“I got into a collective taxi at the same time as some other guy. I thought he was a client. But he was an accomplice,” the student and model said.

On the back seat, the young woman was throttled and robbed of her telephone and $130 (115 euros), before being thrown out of the taxi.

“I filed a complaint,” she said. “The police asked me to pay (the equivalent of) $100 to open an investigation.”

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Nigeria and South Africa’s economic woes hindering African phone sales growth

The drop largely reflects both countries economic struggles with sluggish growth and widespread unemployment.

News Central



Nigeria and South Africa’s economic woes hindering African phone sales growth
(File photo)

The numbers are falling for the first quarter of 2019 in mobile phone shipments to two of Africa’s largest economies – and numbers for the current quarter do not look promising.

Market report by International Data Corporation (IDC) indicate that while smartphone shipments to Nigeria dropped 11.9 per cent to 2.3 million units in the first quarter from a year earlier, the overall phone shipments for South Africa dipped by 4 per cent to 4.7 million units.

The drop largely reflects both countries economic struggles with sluggish growth and widespread unemployment. Nigeria, in particular, was hit in the first quarter by a three-week embargo on shipments of phone brands from China into the country and further worsened by widespread insecurity as well as the one-week delay of the general election.

The Nigerian economy grew marginally by 2 per cent in the three months to March 3st1, far off a target around twice that pace.

With annualised rate of 3.2 per cent in the first quarter, South Africa’s economy shrank to one of its lowest. This was attributable to the challenges of overstocking after a robust fourth quarter.

Consequent upon this, Research Analyst at IDC, Arnold Ponela suggests that the African market is expected to see a continued dominance of “low-end to mid-range devices” as “cheaper phones offering better value will increasingly dominate the market.”

This offers a bright side for Chinese phone maker, Transsion Holdings which has a manufacturing factory in Ethiopia. After over a decade of establishing its business model by focusing mainly on African markets and producing cheaper smartphones with locally-tailored features (such as multiple SIM slots and camera technology calibrated to darker skin tones), the Shenzhen, China-headquartered company dominates the African mobile phone market and offers a broad spectrum of affordable phone brands.

Over time, those brands have evolved from being less-fancied to becoming ubiquitous among local customers, and eventually surpassing Samsung as the top smartphone seller across the continent in 2017.

Transsion leveraged its gain on the continent, even as the continent’s biggest markets slow down. It accounted for the largest smartphone shipments to Africa in the first quarter with Tecno and Itel, two of its leading brands, combining for around a third of total market share, IDC’s report shows.

Its dominance also extends to feature phones as Tecno and Itel jointly hold a 59.7 per cent share of Africa’s feature phone shipments. A predicted consumer preference for lower priced smartphones suggests it will continue to dominate.

However, feature phone shipments to Africa were flat year over year at 0.3 per cent in the first quarter, with shipments topping 31.6 million units. The African market is still dominated by feature phones, with about 60 per cent market share.

IDC forecasts overall mobile phone market sales to decline by 5.3 per cent to about 51 million units in the second quarter due to sharp downswing in macroeconomic and global trade fortunes across the continent.

IDC research manager, Ramazan Yavuz concludes that “another factor is the rise of protectionist measures aimed at controlling smartphone shipments in multiple countries, which causes sudden short-term swings in the market’s performance”.

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