A 31-year-old South African electrical engineer has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Neo Hutiri is the first South African to win the prestigious Africa Prize.
Hutiri and his team developed Pelebox, a smart locker system designed to dispense medicine to patients with chronic conditions. Pelebox is used at public healthcare facilities in South Africa, cutting down on long queues and easing pressure on the healthcare system.
Pelebox is a simple wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system. Healthcare workers stock the lockers with prescription refills, log the medicine on the system, and secure each locker. Pelebox then sends patients a one-time PIN, which they use to open their locker and access their medicine.
Hutiri wins the first prize of US$32,000. Four finalists from across sub-Saharan Africa delivered presentations at an awards ceremony in Kampala, Uganda, on 4 June 2019, with the Africa Prize judges and a live audience voting for the most promising engineering innovation.
“Hutiri is a deserving winner. Pelebox will improve healthcare for everyone using and working in a severely strained public healthcare system,” said Africa Prize judge, John Lazar.
Pelebox gives patients access to their medicine within 36 seconds, in contrast to the average 3.5 hours it takes in other healthcare facilities. This is significant in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest antiretroviral therapy programme, with more than 4.7 million patients collecting monthly treatments from public clinics.
Hutiri commented: “Winning the Africa Prize is a massive achievement for us. We can now ramp up our manufacturing efforts using the prize money. The networks we are part of will also be instrumental for the growth of our business.”
Roy Allela from Kenya was among the three runners up who secured US$13,000 for their innovations. His product is Sign-IO, a mobile app with smart gloves that track and translate sign language movements into speech and text in real time.
The other two were Chukwunonso Arinze from Nigeria with a mobile app called Kaoshi that connects money senders across the globe and Anne Rweyora from Uganda with her company Smart Havens Africa that builds sustainable smart homes from appropriate and affordable technologies, designed to make home ownership more accessible to African women.
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation.
Now in its fifth year, it encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers, from all disciplines, to develop innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new and appropriate way. The 2019 finalists were 16 in total with a majority of them coming from Kenya including Majik Water, Juakali Smart and Chanjoplus.
The Africa Prize provides a unique package of support, including funding, comprehensive business training, bespoke mentoring and access to the Royal Academy of Engineering’s network of high profile, experienced engineers and experts.