South African Wins $32K Prize For Invention To Improve Lives Of Chronically Ill

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli
chronically ill
26 October 2018: Neo Hutiri with his entry: Pelebox Smart Lockers. These smart lockers are designed to cut down the amount of time that patients have to wait for their chronic medication. The system allows for chronic medication to be pre-packed and loaded into the box which a patient can open with a code sent via SMS. Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa. Picture: James Oatway for the Royal Academy of Engineering.

South African engineer Neo Hutiri was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 2014, and that inspired an invention that has the potential to change and save lives.

Hutiri needed to take medication frequently to treat his chronic condition, so he came up with the concept called Pelebox, according to Quartz.

Pelebox is a secure temperature-controlled smart locker which resembles a large ATM machine that dispenses medication to people with long-term or chronic conditions, BBC reports.

An invention for the chronically ill

Patients who need to collect their prescriptions use a one-time pin sent to their mobiles ahead of time to access a locker of medicines pre-stocked by healthcare workers.

The Pelebox machines are expected to be used in hospitals, shopping malls and transportation nodes such as bus stations, allowing people to access their medicines as quickly as two minutes.

The box allows patients to skip long queues that are typical of the public healthcare system in South Africa, where just 16 percent of people in the country can afford access to private healthcare.

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The U.K. Royal Academy of Engineering awarded Hutiri the Africa Prize and $32,000 in prize money.

Judges for the 2019 award praised the concept for improving conditions for both patients and those who work in what they described as “a severely strained public healthcare system”, according to BusinessInsider.

The 31-year-old is the first South African to win the award, and will use the prize money to increase manufacturing of his invention, Weetracker reports.

Six of the lockers are operational, and Pelebox is currently building eight more sets.

In winning the prize, Hutiri beat fifteen talented engineers who were identified for their innovative and inventive capacity.

Other innovations included a technique for harvesting water from the atmosphere and a language app that allows young children to learn basic numeracy and literacy in their own language.

Now in its fifth year, the Africa Prize equips talented engineers with tools and expert advice to take their innovations further and develop them into businesses.

This year there were five women included among the 16 selected engineers, which was an improvement on last year’s list of 16, which included only two women.