It all started with the recent Ebola outbreak in WestAfrica. My mum is an Ophthalmological Clinical Officer working with Entebbe Hospital right next to the national main entry point. I was scared that she was at risk of contracting Ebola since one of the initial signs was red eyes. At that point I asked myself how can I save my mother from contracting Ebola? I did not ask how the government or NGOs or WHO can save my mother?! As a final year architecture student I immediately asked for where the Isolation centres had been set up as the nation was getting prepared to handle an outbreak if it spilled over to Uganda and how they were designed. Just by first engagement, there were many issues that seemed wrong so I decided to investigate the architectural suitability of these Isolation centres as my final year dissertation. I had numerous trainings by World Health Organisation (WHO), Infectious Disease Institute (IDI), Doctors without borders, in Ebola case management and Especially dangerous pathogens management.
A general recommendation that I gave was to design for health. Architectural suitability and cultural rationale plays a big role in infection prevention and control for both public and medical health. The way products and spaces are designed affects infection spread. This was the birth for Innovation for pathogen free environments (InnovAsepsis). This became my vision, mission, dream, my goal, my job, what I wanted to do for my people. I shared my vision with the leadership of Department of Architecture at Makerere University. The one positive thing I remember was one of them Dr. Birabi wrote on a piece of paper the name Professor William Bazeyo, Dean, School of Public Health and told me to look for him to give me money. It is at this point that ResilientAfrica Network, (RAN) asked for students from College of Engineering to join the HEUCA team that was reimagining the tent for Ebola treatment. This was my moment to meet Prof. Bazeyo but also to find a place I call home for my vision. I was recommended by the deputy principal of college of engineering, design, art and technology and the entire engineering department leadership as one of the students to join the team.
Having joined ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) I met people that thought the way I thought. Solving own challenges but not waiting for “other people” solve our challenges, human centred design, designing for the user. This was a chance for me to explore my passion which was to not be an ordinary architect but an architect who is designing particularly for public and medical health. Finding a problem and coming up with a solution designed for the particular community. I had been part of numerous Ebola case management trainings and hand hygiene had been one of the most emphasised during the training saying that 60% of one’s safety working in an Ebola Isolation was due to proper hand hygiene practices. But this was so tiring with the numerous steps that were involved and the fact that one had to rinse the tap handle at every step. With this I did more research on why hand hygiene and how it is in my community.
My findings were, in Uganda and most developing countries the commonest tap is the manual tap where you have to use your hand to open the tap wash your hands and then use the clean hands to close the tap. According to Ministry of Health Uganda, if it is a tap at a public water point, there is 60% chance that you will walk away with an infection. Recommended practice is to rinse the tap after use, use your elbow to open and close the tap, use tissue to open and close the tap, but these are not at all properly adhered to. This happens to over 50% of the general population of Uganda and most developing countries. Some people choose to just walk away without washing their hands thinking they will get infection from the tap not knowing that their hands are already full of infection. According to world health organisation, 60% of nosocomial infections can be mitigated by proper hand hygiene but unfortunately adherence is only 40%.
I thought PedalTap; a retrofit able, adaptable, affordable hands free foot operated water dispensing system that can be connected to any tap system anywhere. Designed to reduce the growth and frequency of potent and infectious diseases spread like colds, Ebola on existing taps at water points in public spaces, humanitarian emergency areas, general health care and mobile gatherings. The PedalTap technology is modifying the existing water dispensing system to create a no touch cost effective solution for developing countries. We have a product that is connected to water systems like sinks. And another that is connected to water drums of any size. This system is used in areas with no water distribution lines especially remote areas where most humanitarian emergencies happen. And also mobile gatherings like events. We are educating these communities on why and how proper hand hygiene. The PedalTap prevents water wastage as water only flows when one exerts pressure on the foot pedal
I Pitched this with a simple prototype that was made of a bottle and a bicycle brake handle and wire, (PedalTap) to RAN, Ministry of Health, College of Engineering, World Health Organisation Uganda, WHO( Ebola case management Team). All thought it was great idea but not achievable. One of my mentors at WHO said I should focus on architecture and not follow strange dreams that are not achievable. Another said I need to first get a PhD and about 10years work experience to change the world. These comments were a great feedback because they helped me analyse and have the perfect reasons for not following their advice. The stereotype here in Uganda is that only people with a lot of academic achievements and age are brilliant. This is right but it should never hinder one’s potential. I told myself that if I let go of my dream now and settle for ordinary architecture so as to achieve experience till 10years then I may as well forget the dream. 10years from now my dreams will be different and what I will have done during that time will have a lot of effect on my decisions. I then knew that if I did not follow my dream now it will die. This is what happens with the stereotype that girls cannot do STEM so at the end of the day they just give up without trying.
RAN engagement team shared with me about the 2015/2016 Big ideas competition at UC Berkley where Makerere University students were legible to apply. I formed a team that included a mechanical engineer and medical student with whom we participated in the competition. PedalTap won 3rd place in the global health category winning US$5000 that we used to pilot the first 10taps to the community. We also had mentorship that helped us understand all aspects of developing an innovation from an idea to a business. Socially this made my parents have faith in what I had decided to do. The winning gave me faith and it fuelled me into going forward. I made sure I learnt as much as possible so I used the knowledge to achieve all my next awards that included the RAN youth spark innovation grant.
PedalTap being a mechanical device, RAN introduced it to their monthly innovation garages where innovations are pitched to experts that give insights to how the innovation should move to the next level. This garage is in partnership with the Innovation consortium limited where PedalTap Prototypes have been fabricated. The PedalTap team worked hand in hand with innovation consortium limited to proof concept and develop the different prototypes, Iterate the prototypes to this current Tap that we are redesigning for manufacturability with Johnson and Johnson.
During this time my team won the RAN Youth Spark Innovation grant worth another US$5000 that helped us be able to iterate the installed taps and take out 10 iterated taps. These taps were selectively placed in public places around Kampala. I leveraged my network from working with ministry of health and trainings with infectious diseases institute to get locations for my pilots that included the national referral hospital, KCCA, Nakawa market. We have finished piloting with these selected communities around Uganda’s Capital of Kampala i.e Mulago National Referral Hospital, Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA’s public toilets, main offices, schools, markets), Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) hospital, and Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH). These organisations promote proper hand hygiene as a mean of infection prevention and control. We plan to partner with them and other organisations with a similar vision including those that promote saving water.
We have gone through the stages of…Idealisation, development (prototyping), Proof of concept, Piloting (test and improve/ iterate), Development of final product. We are now getting ready to scale……. As we monitor for future iterations With PedalTap (Impact)
- Reduced potent and infectious diseases spread at water points in public places like public toilets in case of infection outbreak.
- Reduced nosocomial infections within health facilities from the clinics to the national referral hospital around both rural and urban areas.
- Better hand washing behaviour since people will have no worries of having to touch the “dirty” tap with their hands. Also there will be no human errors of forgetting to rinse the tap after use leaving it with infection.
- Reduced water wastage at water points. For the installed taps half of the water is being use relative to what was being used before PedalTap. Water only flows with pressure exerted on the tap.
For this year I set a goal after analysing the requirements and needs for PedalTap to scale. This was US$80,000 and support to launching on the market. It wasn’t about winning a grant. It had to be a package to take PedalTap to the market. Fortunately we won the Johnson and Johnson (JnJ) Africa Innovation Award worth up to US$ 100,000 and access to all their expertise for free. With the JnJ grant we are going to have 10 milestones done that include Design for manufacturability, measuring impact using automatically generated usage metrics, legal, Designing packaging and cost of goods, Determining what is needed for assembling, Put up a proper working environment/ space for PedalTap activities, identifying required staff and hiring the staff, Branding, sales and research and development. This is going to take more than a year so our going to the market may be within a year from now. We are going to work with JnJ team leveraging their expertise to have the PedalTap get ready to get onto the market. We have a team of expertise that are volunteering from JnJ to support the work for the different milestones set.
I am now on the road to having PedalTaps out on the market and the one thing that can break me is a headline in the next 5 years saying “where is PedalTap?!” “It does not matter if PedalTap fails InnovAsepsis will not fail.” This is a statement one of my mentors said and it is the best I have heard this year. It doesn’t mean that PedalTap will fail but it makes me think and remember my bigger goal of design for health, Architectural suitability as a means of infection prevention and control. It means that someone sees the bigger vision and believes in its journey starting with PedalTap as its flagship product. A few words of wisdom to young innovators and youths
- It is your life make the best out of it. Whatever happens or comes out of your life is your making. There are times you feel like you need to make people happy and it is at the cost of what you want. This could be because you are sure they want the best for you. For example our parents. Know that they lived their life already so you better live yours to. Just try to make it less painful.
- Listen a lot to what everyone says. It gives you a better guide to the decisions you make but most importantly, listen to your inner voice.
- Don’t let the way things have always been done influence/ block your potential. Do it your way. It is ok if you crash, at least you will never wish that you had tried.
- Read everything knowledge is power. I am an architect. I am infection prevention and control specialist, I am hand hygiene, I am human centred design, I am business development, etc.
- When you find home in a place or person keep it. It helps drive your energy forward. Being at RAN and having the RAN community around me has motivated my ambitions and dreams. I have a place where I can share my innovation ideas and chat about innovation. I have met many people with the same story as mine. Sometimes it is what you need to keep going.
- We should never let failures put us down; they should instead lift us up. Remember you alone have the powers to write your life story. The question is what is it going to be?!
- Leverage your network. As I worked with the HEUCA team, I tried to get as much as possible from the consultants and experienced team members. I was struggling with understanding the business part of an innovation. One of the consultants James Makumbi recommended the Business Development Centre where I successfully enrolled and graduated with award of excellence in Business Development.
- Share as much as you can. I realised that many people out there share the first part of my story. The dream and vision but it always dies due to them giving up. I decided to help using my story and knowledge to mentor and guide as many innovators, young girls and everyone I felt I can touch. I also gained passion to inspire girls from 8 years to university and people generally to never give up on their different life they want to take. Also to do STEM and know that it is as easy not as the stereotype that it is hard and girls cannot do STEM. I am doing this through Technovation, stempower, sharing my story even with individuals, innovation garage as vice president and big ideas competition UC Berkley ambassador.