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Africa

Africa innovation prize winners tackle continent's challenges

The winners of this year's Innovation Prize for Africa have invented everything from a fast medical test for common African diseases to a device that can help produce more electricity by boosting efficiency.

Aly El-Shafei smiles as he holds a giant cheque for $100,000

Aly El-Shafei plans to use the prize money to develop his product

Mechanical engineer Aly El-Shafei from Egypt was the winner of this year's Innovation Prize for Africa taking home $100,000 (86,700 euro) for his invention. The 58-year-old has developed an innovative magnetic bearing that increases the performance of turbines generating electricity. 

His patented device will help Africa generate more electricity by making existing machines more efficient, he said. 

"It will help us in solving some of our most prominent problems that we face in Africa," El-Shafei told DW at the prize giving ceremony held in Ghana's capital, Accra. 

He plans to use the prize money to help develop an industrial prototype.

Runner-up Philippa Ngaju Makobore from Uganda won $25,000 for developing a medical device that administers intravenous drugs and fluids more accurately. By using a sensor to better control how quickly fluid flows, Makobore, an electrical engineer, hopes to save more lives of patients who need an infusion. 

Three people sit working around a table

Philippa Ngaju Makobore has a passion for designing affordable devices for Africa

She said the device will be clinically tested this year, first in adults and then in children. The prize money would "go directly to most of those efforts," she told DW.  

Dougbeh-Chris Nyan from Liberia was awarded the Social Impact Prize and $25,000 for a diagnostic test that can detect up to seven diseases found in Africa, including Ebola, malaria and typhoid, within 10 to 40 minutes. 

"The tests we have developed can cut down on detection time," Dr Nyan said to DW. "It's fast in its ability, it's affordable, it's cheap." 

Importantly, the test is portable and can be used in rural areas "with no headache," he said. 

A total of ten innovations from 2,500 applications were nominated for the prestigious prize, which is now in its sixth year. 

Walter Fust, the chairman of the board of the African Innovation Foundation, which organizes the competition, said the prize had a single aim: "to work on mobilizing the innovative spirit of African people and bring in self-confidence to those really gifted people to come forward with solutions."

The hope is that the initiative will keep inspiring young Africans to keep inventing. But it's yet to be seen if African governments are also committed to prioritizing innovation and providing much-needed support for their talented citizens.

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