As COVID-19 spreads and spikes, governments across the world are taking serious measures to prevent the virus. Along with mitigation efforts by governments and organizations to fight the pandemic, entrepreneurs and innovators are working on a wide range of technological and innovative solutions aimed at combating the outbreak.
From infection tracking software to the mechanical ventilators, various mechanisms are developed by Ethiopian technology enthusiasts as an effort to support combat the virus.
“As we are technology researchers we decided to assist our society by developing tech solution to minimize the crisis surrounding the COVID-19,” said Natnael Kebede, CEO, and co-founder of New Era Research and Development (NERD) a center finding a way to develop oxygen ventilator to help those infected with COVID-19 in the country.
At this time the number of coronavirus cases in Ethiopia seems fairly low, compared with other nations that are severely affected. However, if the cases continue to increase our fragile health system will be swiftly overwhelmed, and it may lead to a high shortage of oxygen ventilators in hospitals treating COVID 19 patients, Natnael explained. “Our project is aimed at solving the dearth in ventilators by manufacturing them in a short period using local materials”.
National and other youth at NERD are working on prototypes of emergency ventilators using an open hardware project which was originally developed by professionals from Protofy.xyz, a Spanish company.
“Since the coronavirus pandemic was on everyone’s mind once we opened the center, we decided to focus on something that could help with the situation. This led us to the idea of creating easily fabricated oxygen ventilators. So far we have built three working prototypes and plan on building two more to have companies mass-manufacture them to fight the pandemic in Ethiopia,” Minas Getu, a co-founder at the NERD center, told The Reporter magazine.
“As the virus is impacting the world in many ways we also need to fight it using a variety of means, including technology and digital solutions,” said Minas.
Beyond its health threats, the highly infectious respiratory disease COVID-19 has also changed the way of life drastically. Since physical distancing is the most recommended preventive means, billions in the world are forced to remain physically apart for longer periods. To fulfill daily needs like food as well as to engage in activities like work, friendship, entertainment, schooling e.t.c, people tend to use technology and digital solutions like never before.
For Moteregnawu, a delivery service provider that started operation six months ago, getting enough customers was not as easy as expected. However, the number of city dwellers in need of using delivery services has increased and the pandemic season brings ideal opportunities for a business like Moteregnawu.
“Our customers are growing day by day since coronavirus cases are reported in Ethiopia. As people limit their movement due to the spread of the virus, we design to serve people in the city get items by ordering via phone call,” said Tsegaye Gurumu, founder and CEO of Moteregnawu.
The service enables users to order online from their favorite local restaurants, liquor stores, grocery stores, get services from laundry and dry cleaning providers as well as send and receive a different type of goods and documents. “We offer customers a variety of cash with fewer transaction methods and avoid physical contact to prevent any contamination while serving,” Tsegaye added.
“COVID-19 mitigation efforts need to integrate such ideas and technology canhelp in many ways to fight the pandemic. And we have learned that countries are working to minimize the risk of health personnel in the front line by replacing them with robots; these show how innovative ideas can save lives,” Natnael told The Reporter Magazine.
Weeks after Ethiopia announced the first COVID case on March 13, 2020, academic institutions like universities and TVETs were doing their parts to deploy new innovative solutions to help combat the virus.
Tesfahun Amare is a plumbing trainer at Gofa technical college, one of the TVET’s in Addis Ababa, designed and developed a dual service washing facility to replace the traditional washing taps.
“I saw people use public washing taps on the street – they touch the tap with fingers. I decided to develop a safe hand wash machine which can be operated by foot,’’ he told The Reporter Magazine on April 27, 2020, at his workshop in the campus.
It also helps to cut water wastage which might occur while people put on a soap, explained Tesfahun, adding that many business organizations including hotels and factories have shown interest and ordered the product. However, Tesfahun doesn’t want to commercialize his innovation. Rather he’s looking for funding from any governmental or business organization to help him mass-produce and distribute it to people who live in rural areas.
“I have finalized the design and the prototype but it is still kept on the shelf due to lack of materials to mass-produce. Innovation is nothing unless it is used for the intended purpose,” said Tesfahun.
Youth at the NERD center also fear that their innovation work will face the same fate unless other organizations or large scale manufacturing industries partner with them to mass-produce the mechanical ventilators necessary to meet the country’s current need.
” We have finalized all the research processes and are working with hospitals to perfect these prototypes, which is developed to replace the most expensive imported machines which are currently in short supply worldwide,” Natnael explained.
These are not normal times. We have to be in a hurry to do our homework to help minimize the risk of the virus and any technologies and innovation efforts by different individuals and organizations need to be put into use immediately.
As the team at NERD is looking for any opportunities which might help, the Ministry of Innovation and Technology announced a Grand Innovation Competition for Ethiopian innovators and the tech sector to come up with innovative and homegrown solutions to fight COVID -19.
“It was a piece of great news for everybody at NERD to learn about the opportunity which can support our research efforts and turn our ideas into reality,” said Minas.
According to the Ministry of innovation and technology, the main purpose of the national innovation challenge is to identify and scale up innovative products and services which will play a significant role in combating the COVID 19 pandemic with a centralized approach.
Technology and Innovation Institute, a government organization under MiNT responsible to support institutional and individual innovation efforts in the country, is forming a task force to collect, evaluate, assist the innovative ideas.
“Currently we have received more than 440 applications for the national innovation challenge to fight COVID -19, we will announce the results to the public as the selection is completed,” said Sandokan Debebe, Director General at Technology and Innovation Institute, adding that the institution is also working in a variety of ways to help fight the ongoing pandemic.
“As coronavirus cases are reported in Ethiopia, we as a national technology and innovation research center plan ways of taking part in supporting various efforts to control the spread of the virus as well as providing scientific and technological solutions as needed,” Sandokan told The reporter Magazine.
Resource mapping which enables geolocating the national resource for the virus, contact tracking and surveillance, donation for COVID-19, an initiative for online donations are now developed and being used by various government organizations.
In many developing nations, technology plays a crucial role during the time of crisis and disaster. To mitigate the effects of COVID-19 countries like China and South Korea were positioning technology and innovations in many ways, and so far the results have been indisputable.
“As coronavirus forced us to replace manual work to reduce physical contact, I think everybody seems to understand the value of technology,” Sandakan responded when asked about the level of application of technological and digital systems in this pandemic season.