First South African innovation wins an international engineering innovation prize

First South African innovation wins an international engineering innovation prize

Neo Hutiri, a South African electrical engineer has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for engineering innovation. He won the award for inventing a smart locker system. The 31-year-old is the first South African to win the prestigious Prize.

Hutiri, alongside his team, invented Pelebox – a smart locker system which dispenses medicine to patients with chronic conditions. The innovation is widely used at public healthcare facilities in South Africa, trimming long queues and easing pressure on the healthcare system.

Pelebox is designed like a wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system. Healthcare staffs stick the lockers with prescription refills, log the medicine on the system and encrypt each locker. Pelebox then sends patients one-time PIN, which they use to open their locker and access their medicine.

Among four finalists across sub-Saharan Africa, Hutiri emerged the winner of Africa Prize held in Kampala, Uganda on the 4th of June. The winner was determined by the Africa Prize judges and a live audience.

The African Prize for Engineering Innovation – founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK – is the biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. The award encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all fields, to create innovations that solve crucial problems in their communities in valuable new and appropriate way.

The winner received £25,000 (463,000 ZAR) for his invention that is currently solving problems in healthcare facilities in 6 South African public clinics.

Pelebox gives patients access to their medicine within 36 seconds, compared to an average of 3.5 hours it takes in other healthcare facilities. The innovation is important to South Africa, which has the world’s biggest antiretroviral therapy program, with over 4.7 million patients receiving treatments from public clinics.

Speaking on the winner, Africa Prize Judge John Lazar said, “Hutiri deserves the prize. Pelebox will improve healthcare for all those using and working in a severely strained public healthcare system”.

Established in 2014, the Prize aims to stimulate, reward and celebrate engineers who have developed innovations that will benefit Africans. Its focus is to turn engineers with innovative ideas into successful entrepreneurs.

However, the runner-up, Chukwunso Arinze – a Nigerian – developed a mobile app that connects money senders across the globe.

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Commenting on his Prize, Hutiri said, “Winning the Africa Prize is a massive achievement for my team and me. We can now ramp up our manufacturing efforts using the prize money. The network we are part of will also play a major role in the growth of our business.”

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