South Africa's Neo Hutiri has become the first South African to win the Royal Academy of Engineering's Africa Prize. Hutiri won after his Pelebox, a smart locker system designed to dispense medicine to patients with chronic conditions, was selected the winner at the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering's award ceremony.

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.

“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," said Hutiri.

A long journey

Having previously won the City of Johannesburg's HackJozi challenge back in 2016, Hutiri's smart locker system has always been seen as addressing a real problem in society. The Pelebox 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.

Currently deployed in some health facilities in South Africa, it came as a surprise in 2018 when the Gauteng Health Department in South Africa opted to source a similar solution from German company instead of the South African designed and manufactured Pelebox.

Hutiri wins the first prize of £25,000. Four finalists from across sub-Saharan Africa delivered presentations at an awards ceremony in Kampala, Uganda, on 4 June 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.

The three runners up, who each win £10,000, are:

  • KAOSHI, Chukwunonso Arinze from Nigeria – a mobile app that connects money senders across the globe
  • Smart Havens Africa, Anne Rweyora from Uganda – sustainable smart homes built from appropriate and affordable technologies, designed to make home ownership more accessible to African women
  • Sign-IO, Roy Allela from Kenya – a mobile app with smart gloves that track and translate sign language movements into speech and text in real time
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