MechChem Africa

Ugandan software engineer, Brian Gitta, only 24-years-old, has won this year’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Gitta is the first Ugandan to win the prestigious Africa Prize and the youngest winner to date. He won UK£25 000 (about R446 000) at the awards ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya, on 13 June 2018.

Brian Gitta Uganda Afrca Prize InnovationFour finalists pitched their innovations to a panel of Africa Prize judges and a live audience, which voted for the most promising engineering innovation. Runners-up were awarded £10 000 each (±R178 400).

Gitta and his team developed Matibabu, a device that tests for malaria without drawing blood. Gitta and his team decided to develop the device after missing lectures several times due to malaria. Matibabu, which means ‘medical centre’ in Swahili, is a low-cost, reusable device that clips onto a patient’s finger, requiring no specialist expertise to operate.

A red beam of light shone through the user’s finger detects changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria. The results are available within one minute on a mobile phone that is linked to the device.

Matibabu is currently undergoing testing in partnership with a national hospital in Uganda, and is sourcing suppliers for the sensitive magnetic and laser components required to scale up production.

Matibabu is aimed at individuals, health centres and diagnostic suppliers. The team also aims to set up the device on the streets to allow people to do a single test at a time.

Through their participation in the Africa Prize, the Matibabu team have been approached by international researchers offering support and are currently writing up their groundbreaking findings into an academic paper, to be published within the next few months.

“We are very proud of this year’s winner. It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development – in this case by improving healthcare,” said Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize judge. “Matibabu is simply a game-changer.”

Gitta commented: “We are incredibly honoured to win the Africa Prize – it’s such a big achievement for us, because it means that we can better manage production in order to scale clinical trials and prove ourselves to regulators. The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities – which is what we need most at the moment.”

Three joint runners up

Collins Saguru, a Zimbabwean working in South Africa was one of three runners up. A chemical engineer, Saguru developed AltMet, a process that recovers the precious metals found in the autocatalytic converters of all petrol and diesel vehicles. The common car part reduces the toxicity of vehicle gas emissions and the converter itself contains Platinum Group Metals (PGMs), ie, platinum, palladium and rhodium. These are all valuable and useful for industrial processes and on the European Union’s Critical Materials List, making a strong case for recycling them.

Existing recycling methods require high temperatures, and consequently, a lot of energy. Saguru dismantles used autocatalytic converters, crushes and leaches them before extracting the PGMs, using much lower temperatures than current recycling methods. This means the process is more affordable and emits fewer toxic gases. The chemical reagents used by AltMet are cheap, relatively common and environmentally friendly. Saguru is in negotiations with local partners to set up a comprehensive pilot project.

Ifediora Ugochukwu from Nigeria was the second runner up for iMeter, an intelligent metering system … read more.

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