In what is a first for South Africa, electrical engineer Neo Hutiri has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Hutiri, founder of social impact startup,Technovera, won the award for the Pelebox, a smart locker system which dispenses chronic medication. He came up with the idea after he contracted TB and had to endure the endless queues for medication at public health facilities.
Along with his team, the engineer designed the product, which functions like an ATM, to be installed at public healthcare facilities or even shopping malls. This would mean patients no longer have to spend an entire day waiting to collect their medicine.
Hutiri describes the Pelebox as ‘a simple wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system. Healthcare workers stock the lockers with prescription refills, log the medicine on the system, and secure each locker. Pelebox then sends patients a one-time PIN, which they use to open their locker and access their medicine.
“It gives patients access to their medicine within 36 seconds, in contrast to the average 3.5 hours it takes in other healthcare facilities. This is significant in South Africa, which has the world’s biggest antiretroviral therapy programme, with more than 4.7 million patients collecting monthly treatments from public clinics,” he says.
Technovera has been working with the Cities of Tshwane and Erkhuruleni and the Pelebox is now operational at seven facilities across those metros and has reached over 3000 patients. Seven more are to be opened by the end of July.
Hutiri was one of four finalists from across sub-Saharan Africa and said, “Winning the Africa Prize is a massive achievement for us. We can now ramp up our manufacturing efforts using the prize money. The networks we are part of will also be instrumental for the growth of our business,” he says. He won R463 000 for the innovation.
The awards ceremony was held in Kampala, Uganda, on June 4, 2019, with the Africa Prize judges and a live audience voting for the ‘most promising engineering innovation’.
“Hutiri is a deserving winner. Pelebox will improve healthcare for everyone using and working in a severely strained public healthcare system,” said Africa Prize judge, John Lazar.
Through the Royal Academy of Engineering, winners of the Africa Prize have access to funding, comprehensive business training, bespoke mentoring and the academy’s network of high profile, experienced engineers and experts. This support enabled the Pelebox smart locker team to move from the development of the product to manufacturing, and trademarking their brand.
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. The aim is to reward engineers who have developed innovations that will benefit Africans and assist them to become successful entrepreneurs.