As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, countries across the world have been impacted. Africa in particular a has been faced with a lack of foreign investment, which may have sparked innovation in Africa as tech innovators find ways of creating, efficient inexpensive solutions that are to help fight against the pandemic.
For a continent where people are equipped to making do with limited resources, innovation in Africa in communities is fairly common. Who have created products ranging from home-made farm implements and vehicles, to the popular M-Pesa – the new mobile money payment system, Several startup hubs across Africa are creating innovative solutions, for the immediate demands of daily life.
As the corona virus targets the human respiratory system, individuals with severe symptoms find it very difficult to breath, and will need artificial ventilation. However, there are very few intensive care units in Africa that are fitted with these machines. This isn’t just a problem in Africa, industrialized nations like Germany and the United States have ordered car manufacturers to mass produce ventilators. With demand outweighing production, other counties like Ghana, South Africa, and Uganda have started producing their own ventilators.
In Uganda, an esteemed professor at Makerere University in Kampala, Vincent Ssembatya has partnered with another success story, car manufacturer Kiira Motors, with the primary objective of producing affordable ventilators for the countries cash-strapped health care system.
Another team at the Academic City University College in Ghana has demonstrated innovation and created a prototype ventilator but is currently amidst financial limitations to purchase more components for the device to be ready for certification and testing.
Non-profit venture capitalist Africa Business Angel Network is also working on creating another prototype, and Innoson Motors, a local auto manufacturer has sidelined its production process to manufacture ventilators.
Mobile apps and web solutions
After the success of its virtual hackathon early last week, WHO the World Health Organization is offering up to $20,000 in seed funds to the finalists that have digital solutions that may curb the pandemic. The winning team, representing Ghana has developed a tool that maps test cases that are similar to that of the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The main difference however is that their screening tool has the ability to classify cases according to risk and furthermore submit the data to national authorities.
In Nigeria, Wellvis – the on-demand health information platform has utilized innovation in Africa and developed an easy-to-use app called COVID-19 Triage Tool. This free app allows users to assess their own risk category according to their symptoms and previous exposure history. Depending on the answers, the user will be offered remote medical advice or will be referred to a nearby health care facility. In parallel, the South African country is using platforms like WhatsApp to run interactive Chabot that can answer common questions about symptoms and treatments. Also, in an attempt to decrease fake news and curb panic, two alumni of the University of Cape Town have created Coronaapp, a tool that releases accurate and centralized information about the pandemic.
Mobile money transfer services
Africa is already familiar with phone-based money transfer services with the mobile money platform M-Pesa being used by more than 20 million people. Safaricom, the telecom giant that owns M-Pesa has waived fees on transactions under a certain amount. And Airtel have also waived charges of all payments through their platform Airtel Money.
Food delivery services
Lockdowns are targeted at stopping COVID-19 from spreading. But they also stop almost everything else including food deliveries to markets. In several Southern African cities, markets are essential to supplying locals with daily essentials, contrary to Europe where people can easily stock up on food.
Fresh In A Box, is a startup in Zimbabwe that delivers fresh food produce directly from farmers and door to door. The company operates mainly from an app, using their fleet of delivery motorcycles. This app helps reduce the risk of infection and prevents shortages of food in the community.
In Uganda, a popular app known as Market Garden allows for venders to deliver and sell fresh fruits and vegetable to customers as restrictions that promote social distancing have been applied. The app was developed by the Institute for Social Transformation, a Ugandan charity. The app reduces crowds in the market areas by allowing individuals to sell their goods from their home directly through the app.
New British technology identifies 800,000 high-risk patients from COVID-19
A new technology introduced by the UK has helped clinicians identify 800,000 adults who may be at higher risk from COVID-19 contagion and placed them under high priority to receive the vaccine as part of the country’s vaccination program.
This technology – which was developed by subgroup of NERVTAG, led by the University of Oxford and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – analyses a combination of risk factors based on medical records, to assess whether somebody may be more vulnerable than was previously understood, helping clinicians provide vaccination more quickly to them and ensuring patients can benefit from additional advice and support.
According to a statement published by the British government, the analysis is made possible via new technology and emerging evidence regarding the impact of the disease on different groups and who could be most vulnerable – which means further steps can be taken to protect those most at risk.
“The model’s data-driven approach to medical risk assessment will help the NHS identify further individuals who may be at high-risk patients from COVID-19 due to a combination of personal and health factors,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jenny Harries said.
Harries added that this action ensures those most vulnerable to COVID-19 can benefit from both the protection that vaccines provide, and from enhanced advice, including shielding and support, if they choose it.
Up to 1.7 million patients have been identified. Those within this group who are over 70 will have already been invited for vaccination and 820,000 adults between 19 and 69 years will now be prioritized for a vaccination, the government said in its statement.
The patients identified through the risk assessment will be sent a letter from NHS England in the coming days explaining that their risk factors may help identify them as high clinical risk and that they are included within the support and advice for the clinically extremely vulnerable.
“They will be invited to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible if they have not already had the jab, and will be given advice on precautionary measures, including shielding where this is current advice. Their GPs are also being notified,” the British government’s statement explained.
The research – commissioned by England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and funded by the National Institute of Health Research – found there are several health and personal factors, such as age, ethnicity, and body mass index (BMI), as well as certain medical conditions and treatments, which, when combined, categorizes persons as high-risk patients from COVID-19.
“The independent validation from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) is considered the ‘gold standard’ in quality assurance. The ONS has shown that the model performs in the ‘excellent’ range, and accurately identifies patients at highest risk from COVID-19,” Sarah Wilkinson, Chief Executive of NHS Digital, which has been using the model, said.
According to the government’s statement, the University of Oxford had turned their research into a risk-prediction model called QCovid, which has been independently validated by the ONS and is thought to be the only COVID-19 risk prediction model in the world to meet the highest standards of evidence and assurance.
“The QCovid model, which has been developed using anonymized data from more than 8 million adults, provides nuanced assessment of risk by taking into account a number of different factors that are cumulatively used to estimate risk, including ethnicity,” Lead researcher Professor Julia Hippisley-Cox, a general practitioner and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology and General Practice at University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said.
AI based robotic glove to improve muscle grip and help millions
For the purpose of aiding millions of people with muscles weaknesses or with illnesses, a robotic glove based on AI technology could soon help people recover from such health problems after securing support from the Edinburgh Business School’s (EBS) Incubator, based at Heriot-Watt University.
Motivated to help people having struggles such as his aunt’s with daily tasks like drinking water or changing TV channel after loss of movement caused by multiple sclerosis, led Ross O’Hanlon, 24, to produce the robotic glove.
Four recent engineering graduates, including O’Hanlon, are responsible for BioLiberty, a Scottish start-up, which came up with the robotic glove considered as the first product.
By using Electromyography (EMG) to measure electrical activity in response to a nerve’s stimulation of the muscle, the glove detects a user’s intention to grip. It then employs an algorithm to convert the intention into force, helping the user to hold an item or apply the necessary pressure to complete an activity.
Help with day-to-day tasks
Some of the ways in which this technology is expected to help with day-to-day tasks includes opening jars, driving and pouring a cup of tea.
The main purpose of the new device is to help the 2.5 million people in the UK suffering from hand weakness through illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease and carpal tunnel syndrome – as well those who have lost muscle mass loss due to age.
“Being an engineer, I decided to use technology to tackle these challenges head on, with the aim of helping people like my aunt to retain their autonomy,” Mr. O’Hanlon, from Newry in Northern Ireland, said.
“As well as those affected by illness, the population continues to age and this places increasing pressure on care services. We wanted to support independent living and healthy aging by enabling individuals to live more comfortably in their own homes for longer,” he noted.
The team is working from home in Edinburgh, Belfast and London, due to the pandemic, but plans to return to the Business School once the virus restrictions are lifted.
“We’re confident that support of this type will help accelerate the glove into homes more quickly,” O’Hanlon added.
The team have created a working prototype and secured support from Edinburgh Business School’s Incubator, based at Heriot-Watt University which Mr. O’Hanlon said is a “huge boost.”
There are many gadgets on the market that focus on a specific grip challenge such as tools to help open jars, however this new technology is an all-encompassing solution to support a range of daily tasks.
Such ideas will inspire other entrepreneurs to take the next step, O’Hanlon noted.
Medical 3D printing rises amid COVID-19 pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the healthcare industry into the limelight, as investments from all sorts of industries have been pouring in since last year.
However, one form of investment has been making strides with many in the field: 3D printing and bioprinting.
According to a report by Research and Markets, the global 3D Printing Healthcare Market generated $972.6 million in 2018 and is expected to generate $3.69 billion by 2026, registering a CAGR of 18.2 percent from 2019 to 2027.
Medical 3D printing is being widely used to manufacture medical devices such as prosthetic limbs, orthopedic and dental implants, surgical instruments, precision and personalized pharmaceuticals, and medical education models.
The report highlighted that 3D printing of personalized drugs has the potential to revolutionize the pharmaceutical market; these drugs can be adapted to specific patient requirements, such as age, weight, and comorbidities.
“This ability to print therapies on demand not only has the potential to make medicine personal to patients, but would equally save millions in costs, resources, and waste,” the report explained.
In parallel, 3D bioprinting is used at a more innovative manner by attempting to creating living human cells or tissue for regenerative medicine and engineering. This technology has the potential to fill the gaps in the medical profession such as functional organ replacement, and drug discovery.
According to the report, the growing aging population has driven the demand for donor organs, while regenerative medicine using bioprinters, patient-derived stem cells allow for personalized treatment of certain diseases.
“Use of bioprinted human tissue in drug discovery allows for quicker and more efficient processes, with better outcomes compared to using animal tissue. It also removes the need for animal testing, both in drug and cosmetic development,” Research and Markets noted.
It comes as no surprise that the proliferation of the global pandemic has enormously hampered global healthcare systems, who are in need vital medical equipment and supplies.
Which is why the 3D printing community – from major manufacturers to start-ups and individuals – has taken up the call to support frontline health workers by pledging to support the production of critical medical equipment such as ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPE) for hospitals tackling the pandemic, Research and Markets said.
An example of this can be seen through a recent partnership made by India-based Apollo Hospitals Group and Anatomiz3D to Hospital 3D-printing labs within the country, for 3D printed implants, that would enable doctors to visualize and print implants for complicated cases.
In a joint statement, both companies highlighted that the labs would provide medical 3D printing services for better healthcare, through creation of anatomical models for pre-surgical planning and education, patient-specific cutting and drilling guides, and customized implants and implant molds.
“3D-printing technology is transforming the medical environment, providing a fast, accurate and economical solution to take medical care to the next level. As healthcare evolves, 3D-printing will play an important part,” said Prathap C Reddy, chairman of Apollo Hospitals Group who along with top executives of the healthcare major and Anatomiz3D, spoke to the media virtually on Wednesday.
The statement highlighted that advances in 3D printing technology today produces customized, lighter, stronger, safer, and higher performing products with reduced lead times and lower costs. “Patient-specific design of implantable devices and surgical tools would help optimize surgical processes and costs,” it added.
Both companies explained that a multi-disciplinary team consisting of biomedical, mechanical and AM engineers as well as 3D designers will work with Apollo Hospitals medical and surgical team in the Hospital 3D-printing labs.
The lab will provide anatomical models that are life-size replicas of a patient’s anatomy, accurately reconstructed from their CT/MRI scans into 3D models, which can be created in multiple materials, colors, opacities, and hardness to provide advanced 3D visualization for pre-surgical planning and patient communication, the statement said.
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