Covid-19 might be deemed as the greatest global threat the world has ever faced since the Second World War, but to African universities, it might be a blessing in disguise. Universities in Africa, like any other universities are likely to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic profoundly changed. The virus has sparked innovations among African universities and proved that the youth can take advantage of a crisis to springboard innovations.
In a recent analysis conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa regional office, Africa accounts for 120 of the 1000 new or modified technologies deployed worldwide to respond to Covid-19 pandemic. Out of the 120 innovations, over half are innovated by universities.
In Kenya, for instance, medical and engineering students from Kenyatta University have partnered to build portable ventilators using locally available materials. The ventilators which have two modes, Intermittent Positive Pressure (IPPV) and Synchronized Intermittent Mandatory Ventilation (SIMV) modes offer mandatory breathes to patients who cannot completely breath on their own, and support to patients who can breathe on their own but are not able to achieve volumes respectively.
Another example is that of South Africa. In addition to the works on the variant and growing urgency for a wider range of vaccines, researchers at the University of Cape Town are expected to commence a phase one clinical trial of the Covid-19 vaccine candidate. The vaccine is unique in the sense that; it is designed to boost part of the immune system more than other vaccines.
Still in South Africa, scientists and researchers at the Wits University of South Africa have developed an intuitive and interactive dashboard to track and model the spread of the virus. Also, the university in partnership with a humanitarian organization has opened a Covid-19 testing station which offers tests to referred patients at a fee. The most interesting part is the facility has a turnaround time of between 24-48 hours for results.
The most fascinating innovation is that of the University of Ghana. Through collaborative efforts with scientists from Noguchi memorial institute for medical research and the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP), the university successfully sequenced the genomes of the Coronavirus in Ghana within a short period of time and shared their findings with the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) database . The University is also one the designated Covid-19 care centers in Ghana.
In recognition of the latent innovative capacity of universities, it is clear that Africa has the potential for technological growth. African governments now need to formulate innovation challenges to harness Africa’s capabilities and build its resilience.
The government support should come in the form of favorable policy environments in which universities could work, and financial support – especially for research. Investments by African governments in research programmes at universities make those institutions sustainable.
African universities have demonstrated to the world why their expertise matters and what they are capable of achieving. Indeed, their innovative projects showcase that Africa could be the next frontier of innovations.
The emerging relationship between new innovations and Africa can also be one of the most promising news for the continent only if the entire population is involved in the process.