Engineer Norah Magero has become the first Kenyan to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for her VacciBox invention.
VacciBox is a small, mobile, solar-powered fridge that safely stores and transports medicines like vaccines for use in field vaccinations and remote clinics, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering.
Magero came up with her invention after seeing how farmers she worked with in remote locations needed cold storage but lacked a reliable power supply, BBC reported. During the COVID-19 pandemic when healthcare workers had cold-chain challenges, her invention became useful. She designed VacciBox to chill vaccines and ensure that they reach areas where Kenya’s national grid is yet to get to.
“VacciBox was designed with our local challenges in mind. It’s versatile, reliable and localised. We’re ensuring that it works the way healthcare workers need it to work for the conditions they face each day, so that they can save lives without worrying about technology,” said Magero.
Her portable 40-liter VacciBox can transport blood and tissue and it can be monitored remotely. Besides having a telescopic handle for easy mobility, it can also be wheeled or mounted on a bicycle, motorbike or boat, the award organizers said.
The awards ceremony was held virtually on June 15, 2022. Four finalists made presentations before Magero won the first prize of £25,000 ($30,000). The three other finalists, who each won £10,000, were Nigerian Virtue Oboro who is behind Crib A’glow; Jack Fletcher from South Africa who created HYENA POWER POD; and Togolese Gaël Egbidi known for his Solimi prepaid card.
“We’re delighted to award VacciBox the Africa Prize. The potential impact of improving the cold chain delivery of medicine – especially vaccines – to rural areas is immense,” Africa Prize judge Alessandra Buonfino said. “Norah truly represents the idea that one innovator can change an entire community. We look forward to watching her and her team scale this innovation to reach even more people.”
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. It was founded in 2014 by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering.
Magero is not only the first Kenyan to win the award but also the second woman. In September 2020, Charlette N’Guessan from Ivory Coast became the first woman to win the prize. According to the academy, N’Guessan’s team invented the Bace API that uses facial recognition and artificial intelligence to verify identities remotely.