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African innovations that can change the world


Over the past few decades, we have seen major improvements in public health around the world – resulting in increased lifespans, decreased child mortality, and greater control of vaccine-preventable diseases!

Many of these achievements are due to new innovations in modern medicine and technologies, however, despite what some may think, solutions to many of the world’s health challenges do not always require advanced technology. Small interventions, like hand washing or cleverly re-imagined basic tools, can be transformative. Indeed, innovations that are based on local problems and draw upon local resources are often the most effective…

Below we take a look at some surprising innovations that take the word resourceful to a whole new level: 

1. Apopo 


A trainer with an African Giant Pouched Rat. Photo credit: Apopo.org

Sometimes heroes come in very unlikely forms. The founder of APOPO, Bart Weetjens, came up with the idea to use the incredible sense of smell of rats to save lives. He developed a system of training African Giant Pouched Rats to detect land mines in countries like Mozambique. Traditionally, dogs are trained for this role, but it costs one-fifth the amount to train a rat as it does a dog, and with impressive results. However, the rats’ potential doesn’t end there.

About 1.9 million people die from tuberculosis (TB) every year, and while the disease is treatable, it has to be detected early. One way to detect TB? Rats! APOPO has trained their rats to detect tuberculosis and have shown that rats can test the same amount of TB samples in 7 minutes that would take humans a day in the lab! Who would have thought rats would be this helpful?

2. Uncharted Play- Soccket Ball

Photo from unchartedplay.com/

Photo from unchartedplay.com

The people at Uncharted Play believe that having fun and doing social good can go hand in hand. Their first major innovation was the Soccket Ball, a soccer ball that charges while it’s being played with, and can then be used as a power source when it’s not in use.

The power can be used to light an LED lamp. This is especially important in areas of the world that are off the electricity grid or that do not have reliable access to electricity. In these areas, people often have to resort to unsafe forms of energy such as kerosene lamps and diesel generators. Providing a safe, environmentally clean product makes a huge difference in the lives of many.

In addition to the Soccket Ball, Uncharted Play also sells ‘The Pulse’ which is a jump rope that can be used to charge a phone. Uncharted Play continues to invent interesting ways to solve challenges of the world.



Photo from hipporoller.org/

3. Hippo Water Roller

Access to safe water is one of the biggest global health challenges.  Generally responsible for collecting water, women have to spend many hours a day doing so. They will often walk for miles carrying heavy pots, making the process both potentially unsafe and extremely strenuous.

The inventors of the Hippo Water Roller Project saw this problem and introduced the Hippo Water Roller as a solution. This is a round container fashioned with a handle so that it can be pushed. The roller requires much less effort to collect water, collects water much quicker, and even is able to carry more water per trip (5x that of a single bucket!). This invention improves health and also allows more time for education or income generating activities. The rollers are made to withstand harsh conditions and last from 5-7 years. The Hippo Water Roller Project is a perfect example of how a simple invention can make a world of a difference in the lives of many.

4. Riders for Health 

Riders for Health's Kenya Programme, shot by Tom Oldham, lit by Tom Andrew October 2011

Photo from riders.org

Riders for Health recognised transportation as a critical obstacle to providing health care in many developing countries. A lack of access to transportation can be a significant barrier to receiving quality medical care–with people living in very remote areas far from health centers, it is difficult to reach health centers and receive necessary and emergency care.

Riders for Health partners with NGOs, government agencies, private-sector organisations, and religious groups to mobilise healthcare professionals. A healthcare worker on a well-managed motorcycle can reach up to six times more people each day. Riders for Health train workers to operate a motorcycle, ambulance, or another four-wheel vehicle, as well as teach them basic maintenance. Currently, Riders for Health operates in seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They have 20 workshops, 82 technicians, and travel about 517 miles per month. Riders for Health continues to make an impact on many by making healthcare more accessible where it is greatly needed.

What creative solutions would you add to this list? Let us know in the comments below!

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