BRILLIANT MINDS

Kenyan innovators who wowed the country in 2020

Youths in Githunguri, Kiambu, made ICU beds using locally available materials.

In Summary

• Stephen Wamokota, a nine-year-old boy was among the list of 68 Kenyans who were honoured with the presidential award for their efforts in fighting the pandemic.

• Kenyatta University students developed a ventilator as the country steps up efforts to combat coronavirus.

INVENTION: Eric Gathogo lies on the bed as engineer Paul Wangaruro (right) shows how it is operated
INVENTION: Eric Gathogo lies on the bed as engineer Paul Wangaruro (right) shows how it is operated
Image: STANLEY NJENGA

Kenya found itself in a catch-22 situation during the year 2020, where it had to deal with a number of challenges, the most being the deadly novel coronavirus.

The virus pandemic hit the nation at the time when it was still battling the devastating desert locusts that raided farms in many parts of the country, destroying crops across several counties.

The government had announced that plans had been put in place to protect its citizens from the virus once it found itself in the country.

But when the first case was reported on March 13, 2020, loopholes emerged.

As more people tested positive, some needed specialised treatment which required more facilities and equipment, which the government was not adequately prepared for.

Indeed, necessity is the mother of invention, a reality that came to pass during the year as the government, private organisations, institutions as well as individuals joined hands in coming up with equipment, ways, and ideas to combat the virus.

Intensive Care Unit (ICU) beds, ventilators, face masks, gloves, sanitisers among others were equipment key in fighting the virus.

Ventilator prototype

The more seriously affected Covid-19 patients needed the help of ventilators to ensure that lungs are function even as the body fights the virus.

In April, a group of 16 students from Kenyatta University developed a ventilator as the country stepped up efforts to combat the virus.

Industrialisation CS Betty Maina during a demonstration of how the ventilator developed by KU works on Saturday, April 11, 2020.
Industrialisation CS Betty Maina during a demonstration of how the ventilator developed by KU works on Saturday, April 11, 2020.
Image: COURTESY

They said that each ventilator would cost them Sh500,000 to produce and the university had the capacity to produce 50 units per week.

The initiative was a collaboration among students from engineering, nursing, medicine, and pharmacy schools.

The ventilator was driven by engineering school dean Dr Shadrack Mambo and Prof Nicholas Gikonyo, who is the chairman of the Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre, where the project is housed.

All the materials used for the prototype were locally sourced.

Toyota Kenya also developed a ventilator as an emergency use resuscitator system to support patients with Covid-19 respiratory failure.

The ventilator was designed to enable rapid large-scale development and deployment, and it was made from locally sourced components.

According to the company, the bridge mechanical ventilator comprises four parts which include a motor vehicle motor 12V DC, which can be sourced from any car wiper motor, locally fabricated sheet metal pattern which can be cut by CNC machines or fabricated by Jua Kali artisans.

It also comprised a cam pattern which can also be cut from sheet metal plates to control the tidal volume and a motor control circuit that can be locally made using available IC, transistor, capacitors, and resistors.

ICU beds

By the end of June, the country had reported more than 6,000 positive cases with 148 deaths and the number of patients admitted in hospitals increased.

INVENTION: The Intensive Care Unit bed under construction.
INVENTION: The Intensive Care Unit bed under construction.
Image: STANLEY NJENG'A

With the rising demand for ICU beds, a group of youths in Githunguri, Kiambu County, made an ICU bed using locally available materials.

This came at the time when the president had directed all the 47 county governments to have at least 300-bed capacity facilities. 

Eric Gathogo, who is the group leader said that they took the step after a discussion with all the group members.

“The government directed that counties should have over 300 beds in their hospitals and we thought this was an opportunity since the beds are being imported and we have the ability to make them locally,” Erick said.

INVENTION: The Intensive Care Unit bed under construction.
INVENTION: The Intensive Care Unit bed under construction.
Image: STANLEY NJENGA

The group also sought professional advice from an engineer who instructed them on which metal, wood, screws, bolts, and wire mesh to use. The engineer also gave them the schematic to build a standard recommended ICU bed.

They were able to be awarded tenders to supply the beds to the various hospitals, Murang'a county leading by contracting them to supply 100 beds.

Handwashing machines

One of the preventive methods to curb the spread of the virus is through proper handwashing.

INNOVATIVE: James Nyakera demonstrating how his automatic hand washing machine works in Kairo shopping centre, Murang'a.
INNOVATIVE: James Nyakera demonstrating how his automatic hand washing machine works in Kairo shopping centre, Murang'a.
Image: ALICE WAITHERA

The government asked its citizens to wash their hands using a bar soap with enough running water. This led to the innovation of handwashing machines among Kenyans.

In May, an IT degree holder from Murang’a came up with an automatic handwashing machine to help residents fight the coronavirus. 

James Nyakera, who is from Mioro village in Mathioya, fit an ultrasonic sensor onto a frame on which a water tank is mounted to dispense soap and water.  

When you put a hand underneath the outlet pipe, the sensor activates a pump that releases liquid soap for three seconds.

His step was followed by a standard six schoolboy who invented a wooden hand the washing machine.

A nine-year-old boy Stephine Wamukota, said he came up with the idea and started assembling the required tools, including woods and nails.

A nine-year-old boy Stephine Wamukota invented a wood handwashing machine.
A nine-year-old boy Stephine Wamukota invented a wood handwashing machine.
Image: COURTESY

His father James Wamukota helped him to finalise his project, which attracted the attention of the villagers who benefited from it.

The boy was among the list of 68 Kenyans who were honoured with the presidential award for their efforts in fighting the pandemic.

Covid contact tracing app

Three researchers from Mount Kenya University (MKU) also joined the list of inventors, by developing a Covid-19 contact tracing application named KoviTrace.

HOPE: Dr Jesse Gitaka explains to TV47's Weru Mwangi how KoviTrace works at MKU in Thika on Saturday, June 20, 2020.
HOPE: Dr Jesse Gitaka explains to TV47's Weru Mwangi how KoviTrace works at MKU in Thika on Saturday, June 20, 2020.
Image: JOHN KAMAU

Donatus Njoroge (a Biochemist and a lecturer at MKU), Gideon Kamau (an IT expert), and Dr. Jesse Gitaka (a medic) said the app has the ability to trace people who might have been in close contact with a patient for the last 14 days.

HOPE: Donatus Njoroge explains how KoviTrace works, at MKU in Thika on Saturday, June 20, 2020.
HOPE: Donatus Njoroge explains how KoviTrace works, at MKU in Thika on Saturday, June 20, 2020.
Image: JOHN KAMAU

The system, according to Njoroge, has a back-end system, which is a web-controlled portal that can be used by the administrator, in this case, the Ministry of Health, and a front-end system that can be accessed by Kenyans with smartphones or through USSD for those without such phones.

 “The App keeps track of locations and timestamps in a database, which is the back-end that can only be accessed by the administrator (Ministry of Health),” he said.

Garden furniture

The Jua Kali sector also showcased its capability, by coming up with a bench that can be converted to a table.

A screen grab of Deputy President William Ruto interacting with Stephen Odhiambo and Dennis Otieno, two enterprising Kenyans with innovative ideas on garden furniture at his Karen Office on June 25, 2020.
A screen grab of Deputy President William Ruto interacting with Stephen Odhiambo and Dennis Otieno, two enterprising Kenyans with innovative ideas on garden furniture at his Karen Office on June 25, 2020.
Image: COURTESY

Stephen Odhiambo and Dennis Otieno, based at Ngong Road are the carpenters behind the viral garden furniture video that caught the attention of Kenyans.

The carpenters said that they lifted the idea from the internet and went ahead to practically make it become a reality.

They were able to receive a number of demands from Kenyans, a bench ranging from Sh25,000-Sh40,000.

Deputy President William Ruto is among the people wowed by their product, inviting them to his residential home in Karen, and made an order.