The Ghanaian society and economy have been severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
While health systems are being put to the harsh test, businesses in all sectors of the economy are also fighting to stay afloat due to the sharp decline in revenues.
These developments have however sparked positive responses from entrepreneurs and innovators in Ghana who are rising to the occasion, making significant interventions to fight the pandemic.
Since March 2020 when Ghana recorded its first case of COVID-19, many of these innovators have been racing to come up with improved products and new ideas to contribute to the national fight against coronavirus.
From low-cost ventilators to rapid diagnostic test kits, these unique Ghanaian responses despite being born out of limited resources, are hoping to hasten Ghana’s process of becoming COVID-19 free.
Here are some of the innovations introduced to battle the virus that has affected more than 2,000 people in the country and killed over 15 of them.
Ventilators are critical medical devices needed in the management of serious coronavirus cases.
They are used in intensive-care when victims are unable to breathe by themselves or breathing insufficiently.
The unit cost of a standard ventilator is estimated to be between $25,000 and $50,000 which is not easily affordable for Ghana, even worse the pandemic has caused a global shortage of ventilators.
In response to this situation, Researchers at the College of Engineering of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology spent over GH¢20,000 (about $3,440) to develop a prototype of the KNUST ventilator which they believe will be out in a month’s time to meet the country’s need.
The production of the automated ventilator has been in the works since 2017 but slowed due to funding challenges.
According to the Provost of College of Engineering, Prof. Mark Adom Asamoah, they hope to produce the ventilators for every district and community hospital in the country to protect and save lives during and after the pandemic.
“There are a lot of people who are struggling to breathe out of ailments. However, the cost of commercial ventilators is very high and very few people can afford them. So this effort is to find a way of producing these ventilators at a very low cost. Our aim is to make sure that every district or community hospital would have one of such ventilators to help the national effort in trying to solve basic health problems.”
A team of medical devices experts, volunteer students and engineers have also developed two prototypes of their low-cost ventilator from the workshop of Academic City in Accra.
Led by Ghanaian inventor, Prof. Fred Mac Bagonluri, the team, within a week, used easily accessible repurposed local materials including leather, PVC pipes, windshield wiper blade motors and pistons to design the two prototypes.
“This [ventilator] is light, portable and very agile. We can put electronics in here to make them as sophisticated as the ones that are bought from abroad or as simply and agile enough to be used in rural areas… but we have the basic concept in place,” said Prof. Mac Bagonluri.
He is hoping that the team will source “real components” soon to be able to develop the actual ventilator, which he says can be assembled within 25 minutes and would cost GH¢1,000 (about $172) when produced en mass.
Contactless hand-washing machines
The importance of the hand-washing in the fight against the global pandemic cannot be overemphasized. Beyond the major advice to wash hands under running water, some Ghanaian innovators are making low-cost hand-washing setups that ensure no contact with taps.
The solutions range from non-complex foot-pedalled wash systems to sensor equipment.
Richard Kwarteng, a marketing graduate from the Christian Service University College in Kumasi made a solar-powered contactless hand-washing basin that dispenses liquid soap and water when it senses a hand under the tap.
The system has two major chambers; one for storing water and the other for holding the used water which can be dislodged when full.
The prototype cost about GHC 2,000, (about $344)according to Kwarteng.
“We made this from a used barrel. It is very durable and can easily be moved from one place to the other… Because of the solar installation that we have done, the device can be placed anywhere,” he said.
The product has received certification from the Ghana Standards Authority.
At Gomoa Nyanyanno in the Central Region, 56-year-old Ebenezer Bonsu, made a foot-pedalled hand-washing machine using wood, a gallon and copper wire which he calls “Ebenezer bucket.”
Applying a foot to the pedal moves a lever to allow water to flow into the palm for proper hand-washing.
According to Mr. Bonsu, the first product cost about GH¢400 (about $68) but the subsequent ones are on sale for an average of GH¢ 300 (about $51) depending on modifications required for different users.
Rapid Diagnostic Test kits
Ghana’s foremost science university, the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) and Incas Diagnostics produced a Rapid Diagnostic Test kits to be used to test for COVID-19.
Although the product is yet to receive the necessary approvals for its use, the move is being celebrated as a major breakthrough for scientific innovation by Ghana, in Ghana.
The main means of testing for COVID-19 in Ghana is by the use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) method, however, scientists say having an RDT will be a good complement to lessen the burden on the major testing labs in the country.
KNUST & Incas Diagnostics have developed and are optimising a Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDT) for COVID-19 testing. This significant contribution towards the fight against COVID-19, will augment the current COVID-19 testing regime in the country. Read more: https://t.co/OfmrzKPgjl pic.twitter.com/3lu99Qxc2M
— KNUST (@KNUSTGH) April 28, 2020
“PCR will always be the gold standard however there is the need to have another test that basically augments PCR testing,” said the Managing Director of Incas Diagnostics, Dr. Laud Anthony Basing.
The RDT will be able to give test results in 20 minutes but Dr. Basing says they are “cautiously optimistic about” the progress made with the RDT as they go through the processes to enable them mass produce for the market.
Flying COVID-19 samples
Having the world’s largest medical drone delivery service, Ghana is using drones to deliver COVID-19 samples taken from suspected victims to testing labs.
The first delivery was done on April 17, 2020 with 51 samples transported from the Zipline drone distribution center at Omenako in the Eastern Region to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research in Accra, about 70 kilometers away.
Samples collected from rural communities are taken to the Zipline distribution center for subsequent dispatch to the major COVID-19 testing labs in Accra and Kumasi as a way of addressing the delays in ground transport of samples.
The collected samples are kept in secured boxes and placed in the belly of the drone and then dispatched by a drone pilot who remotely launches the drone.
— #COVID19: Stay at home (@jnyabor) May 5, 2020
A few meters above the ground at the destination, the pilot remotely opens the belly of the drone for the secured samples to gently land on the ground via a parachute.
The package is then disinfected and taken in for testing.
While the production and sale of face masks have soared due to high demand of the protective piece amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, entrepreneurs at Sixteen47 Company Limited have moved ahead to make face shields which are slowly becoming a favorite for scientists and health workers due to the many advantages they have over face masks.
Using clear flexible PVC and soft foam for comfort, the company’s 150 employees make the shields in a very controlled environment in Accra.
The company has already received approval from the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) and have so far made over 50,000 pieces, some of which have been donated to frontline workers.
The company’s CEO Nura Archer who says they are producing the shields alongside other PPEs believes that face shields offer more protection and convenience when it comes to dealing with COVID-19.
“We started producing face masks and as we moved along, we decided to produce the face shield. The face shield actually gives you full coverage of your mucus membrane.”
Cognate Systems, a Ghanaian software engineering company, through its Opine Health Assistant platform, is helping to map out suspected COVID-19 cases across the country.
Operating on USSD codes *920*222# and *714*444#, the platform presents users with a series of questions that bother on COVID-19 symptoms and risk factors of users.
The responses to the questions as well as the location of the user aggregated used to point out potential hotspots of the COVID-19 in the country on a map.
The information collected can be used by health authorities and scientists to make more informed predictions on the level of the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
The social aspect of the Opine Health Assistant platform is that it enables those in need of shelter or food to make that known for action.
The Nyaho Medical Center in collaboration with ClearSpace labs, an AI Research and Development company have developed a COVID-19 assessment tool.
The tool, named Serenity Health enables Ghanaians to assess their risks of contracting COVID-19 and is able to connect health teams to the user. The platform also affords users the opportunity to schedule medical appointments and have a health professional call them.
The platform can be assessed at www.serenity.health/covid19
Deliberate efforts may have to be made to sustain the wave of innovation in Ghanaians and the entrepreneurial mindsets developed beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.