NWU engineers walk away with international award for tackling COVID-19

Issued by North West University
North-West, Jun 25, 2020

An initiative from the Faculty of Engineering at the North-West University (NWU) was recently honoured with an international award from the COVID-19 Innovation Challenge of the United Nations (UN) Africa Innovation and Investment Forum 2020.

According to Jean-Paul Adam of the United Nations Africa Innovation and Investment Forum, the novel coronavirus is threatening to undo the hard-earned health, economic and social development gains that Africa has registered since 2000.

"COVID-19 has overrun the well-resourced healthcare systems of some developed and developing countries, and several organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have issued cautionary statements encouraging African countries to boost their healthcare capabilities to meet the impending surge in infections."

Adam says Africa traditionally depends on external supplies of medical equipment, diagnostic reagents and tools, protective gear and medicines. "With a global scramble for limited medical supplies, Africa may have to turn inwards. The continent may need to leverage the limited technology and innovation capabilities and harness and stimulate its full entrepreneurial talent to respond, deepen national and regional supply chains and optimise global knowledge partnerships to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19 and beyond."

It is in this regard that the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and its partners invited researchers, firms, public and private development agencies, government leaders, innovators, youths and development partners to showcase their innovations at the first Africa Innovation and Investment Forum 2020. The focus of the forum was on COVID-19, and it took place from 15 to 19 June 2020.

According to Prof Leenta Grobler, project leader and specialist in health-related engineering innovations, their COVID-19 screening solution involves the digitalisation of the screening and data capturing process.

"TjopTjop is a mobile app-based system that conveniently collects and stores the health vitals of students, learners, staff and customers, without the paperwork. It saves considerable time and effort at screening points, stores data safely off-site and relays or reports selected data packets to designated addressees. It requires basic electronic thermometers and smartphones that are commonly available. It currently operates on Android phones, but the Apple-app version is already under development."

An Excel-format list can be created for participating schools, containing every authorised person's identification number, name and designation (grade and class, teacher, parent or department) and an emergency contact number. This information is encoded by the NWU's engineering team as a QR code and printed on an ID card, which can be provided to every learner.

The UN's Innovation Challenge 2020 identified and showcased some of the top technologies and innovations from across Africa and beyond, explored investment and market needs and identified business opportunities.

The NWU's TjopTjop initiative came out top of its class. "In the category of 'contact tracing', we would like to congratulate Prof Leenta Grobler and her team for the excellent innovation that they presented. It is wonderful to see Africa responding to the COVID-19 challenges," Adam says.

Prof Grobler was over the moon about receiving the award for the TjopTjop initiative. "It is a great honour to receive this recognition from such a prestigious organisation. I sincerely hope that TjopTjop will help us all get back to school and back to business and move towards a post COVID-19 world."