EssentialTech: Addressing Africa’s essential health needs

Early June, I was in Switzerland for an exchange programme with a number of journalists from across the world. The trip was organized by EQDA, and sponsored by SDC among others
Ebola PPEs developed at EssentialTech are four times cheaper than the ones on the market. (Courtesy photo)
Ebola PPEs developed at EssentialTech are four times cheaper than the ones on the market. (Courtesy photo)

Early June, I was in Switzerland for an exchange programme with a number of journalists from across the world. The trip was organized by EQDA, and sponsored by SDC among others

While in Switzerland, a country  which like Rwanda is referred to as the land of 1000 hills, I visited many interesting places but I was lucky to include the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), one of the biggest institutions among my itinerary.

 

At EPFL, they have a department, EssentialTech under the Cooperative and development institute that has dedicated its time in development essential technology for developing countries, with Africa as their target.

 

EPFL is a big Technological institute with 10,000 students. 2,500 of these students are PHD students and 60% of them are foreigners which makes it an important international research center, since all foreign grandaunts return to their home countries upon graduation.

 

“The university is dedicated to technological innovations, developing projects that are useful, adoptable for society. We now have projects on water, energy and nutrition. Last year we added entrepreneurship and urbanization. Since we can’t have everyone who wants to study here, we have opened online courses that gives African students a chance to graduate here” said Jean Clude Bolay, Director for cooperation at EPFL.

“New technology is important but management shouldn’t be overlooked. They are elements that are very essential and that’s one of the problems we’ve seen about Africa” Bolay adds

Under the CODEV department is the EssentialTech department that is handling a number of projects.

 “Before coming here, I worked with an American firm and while there, I realized that they develop many things for Africa but don’t share information with Africa. To me this was wrong and I immediately wanted to change the way things were done, that’s how I ended up here” started professor Klaus Schonenberger, a founding member and head of corporate functions of EssentialMed.

Schonenberger who has a Degree in Microengineering and a PhD form the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) says that EssentialTech is building technologies that have the potential to improve millions of human lives in the world’s poorest regions in a sustainable manner.

“I went to Cameroon and found out that the access to new medical technologies is rare. Some of the equipment used in the health centres were missing parts and were not compatible.

Currently, Klaus and a number of partners are developing an x-ray machine that he says will be ten times cheaper than the ones on the market.

“These x-ray machines are built for the developing world. They come with in-built capabilities to even work in conditions where there are constant power cuts. ”

Schonenberger confirmed to The New Times that they are open to investors especially now that they’re almost finishing the developing of the X-ray machine and going into industrialization. They hope to supply over 100,000 X-rays five years after production.

When Ebola struck between 2014-2015, many people lost their lives and among these were medical personnel (more than 500 victims) who were trying to contain Ebola.

Today, EssentialTech has developed Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to protect medical workers against viruses such as Ebola under its project, SMARTPPE.

The new equipment they have is easier to put on and take-off thus reducing risks of contamination.

Ebola PPEs developed at EssentialTech are also four times cheaper than the old ones and creates less amounts of infectious wastes in countries where the infrastructure to handle such dangerous wastes is not available.

EssentialTech program also has a SafeMicroLab project that seeks to strengthen the health system in developing countries by providing portable biosecurity laboratory that will give access to international standard laboratory diagnostics in resource limited settings.

Generally, EssentialTech has programs that are into Food and Security, Water and Sanitation, Pharmaceuticals, medical equipment among others.

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