18th of June, 2016 - that’s the day my whole perspective of Innovation in Africa was changed forever. It all started when I flew in to the the Sir Seretse Khama Airport in Gaborone, Botswana. Everything from the airport itself amazed me and seriously challenged the perceived notions I had of this beautiful country.
It was really cool to be able to view the Botswana Innovation Hub firsthand, days before the Innovation Prize for Africa 2016 (IPA2016) commencement. Seeing all the work put into creating a buzz around innovators and innovations from all over the continent was amazing.
I had the chance to meet and talk to a few of the innovators, and I realized one thing - not all innovations are digital and tech-savvy, but that doesn't mean they are any less innovative.
There were a lot of innovations in the medical field. One innovator had the idea to make medicine for different illnesses from African plants, something that was done by our ancestors. The fact that he thought of bringing it back to life by adding a flare of his own, was rather interesting.
I met Dr. Imogen Wright from the University of the Western Cape’s South African Bioinformatics Institute, who won the second prize for Exatype, a software solution that enables healthcare workers to determine HIV positive patients’ responsiveness to antiretroviral (ARV) drug treatment.
As it turns out, the DNA patterns of disease-causing organisms can indicate how they respond to various drugs and medication, meaning that it's possible to predict how persons with HIV will react to medication, and this could potentially reduce the likelihood of resistance.
Exatype uses DNA sequencing of the HIV present in a patient’s blood to determine the nature of the virus, generating a simple report that can be used to detect the drugs to which the patient is resistant. The method holds promise, and it could be used to detect drug resistance for other diseases plaguing the African continent such as tuberculosis, malaria and antimicrobial resistance. Let’s hope I am correct about this one…
Another innovation I was interested in was Api-Palu, an anti-malaria tablet made from natural plant extract, created by Valentin Agon from Benin. This was the overall prize-winner at the event. For me, it represents how we can use the natural resources our continent has in abundance to solve some of our most pressing needs - malaria kills more than half a million people in Africa, many of them children. These innovations are part of a trend where local researchers are coming up with methods to solve the problems they face, showing that we as Africans can maximize on the resources we have to make something truly inspiring.
These two innovators were only a small part of IPA2016. The three-day event brought together Africans who have a deep belief in the potential for the continent to support and foster innovation. They all came together to share and bounce ideas off one another and to showcase the potential of the people of Africa.
Innovation is truly making great waves in Africa, and this is just the beginning of it all, and if given the correct support, it will flourish tremendously.