NIGERIAN students have built a machine they hope can one day help hospitals remotely treat COVID-19 patients, taking temperatures, transporting medicine and allowing medical workers to communicate with patients with a webcam and screen.

The robot is a remote-controlled cabinet on wheels, decked out with a vibrant, floral pattern and dubbed “MAIROBOT”.

In a demonstration, a school nurse loaded MAIROBOT with medicine and a student, using a controller and goggles to see through a camera, trundled the machine through a corridor and into a mock isolation room to scan a student’s forehead for her temperature.

“I hope this MAIROBOT can curb and reduce the risk that these health personnel get – I want health workers to be safer,” said Nabila Abbas, one of the robot’s creators.

The robotics team at the Glisten International Academy in Nigeria’s capital Abuja started out trying to build MAIROBOT by collaborating online but eventually had to come together to finish the project in their lab.

But MAIROBOT, which took about three months to build, is still in its early days. During the demonstration, the isolation room door had to be left open for it, and it can only carry medication, so patients would self-administer while a nurse watches over the camera.

“Right now we are working on upgrading it,” said David Adeniyi, the teacher overseeing the robotics team, who says the students hope to make MAIROBOT commercially available one day.

For Abbas, the robot’s use will not stop at the coronavirus.

“Other infectious diseases can also be curbed using MAIROBOT like Ebola, Lassa fever and all these infectious viruses,” she said.

Source – Thomson Reuters Foundation

NIGERIAN artist Olufela Omokeko carefully arranges fresh peppers on wooden boards hanging in a bare room. Instead of providing spice in a meal, he wants them to encourage people to obey measures that will stop the spread of the coronavirus.

His pieces, comprising of red, yellow and green peppers mounted on boards and tomatoes hanging from nets, will rot during the lifespan of the exhibition in Lagos. The decay reflects the food wasted during lockdowns last year, said the 30-year-old artist.

“I created this art space as a reflection of the scarcity… and numerous challenges that we experienced at the early stage of the pandemic,” Omokeko said.

Lockdowns were imposed from late March until early May last year in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, and the capital, Abuja. The restrictions, coupled with a ban on nationwide interstate travel, disrupted supply chains which led to widespread hunger, while food rotted in fields or at depots.

“I don’t want us to go back to that stage again and my only advice is for the masses to use their face masks just to avoid another lockdown,” he said.

He fears authorities may enforce more restrictions as the country grapples with the second wave of COVID-19 infections that has seen the number of cases rise sharply in recent weeks.

Public health officials have repeatedly warned that Nigerians are failing to heed guidance on observing social distancing and wearing masks. Many opt to wear masks around their chin, rather than over their mouth and nose.

Omokeko hopes the sight of his rotting peppers, oozing liquids and giving off a pungent smell, will provide a visceral warning of what may happen if safety advice is ignored.

“I’m not wasting this material,” he said. “I’m using it to raise the consciousness of the masses.”

Source – Thomson Reuters Foundation

NIGERIA’S Kaduna state has signed a deal with medical delivery firm Zipline that will allow drone shipment of COVID-19 vaccines without significant state investment in cold-chain storage, the company has announced.

Kaduna’s partnership with Zipline, which delivered more than 1 million doses of other vaccines in Africa over the past year, will also enable on-demand delivery of blood products, medications and other vaccines.

“It will help ensure that millions of people in Kaduna State will always get the care they need,” Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai said.

Zipline said its end-to-end cold chain distribution capability, which can safely deliver even the Pfizer vaccine, would allow Kaduna health facilities to bypass purchases of ultra-low freezers and enable on-demand deliveries of precise amounts of COVID-19 vaccines.

The company said it is working with an unnamed “major COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer” to enable access to COVID-19 vaccine deliveries in all the markets where it operates. It currently offers drone delivery of blood, vaccines and other medical equipment in Ghana, Rwanda and the United States.

Zipline is also in talks with other states in Nigeria.

Nations across Africa, with limited cold-chain storage and poor road and rail networks, are grappling with how to deliver COVID-19 vaccines that require ultra-low temperature storage.

The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at around -70 degrees Celsius (-112°F) before being sent to distribution centres in specially designed cool boxes filled with dry ice.

Nigeria has said it will seek vaccines that are less dependent on cooling facilities.

Kaduna services are slated to begin in the second quarter, with round-the-clock service from three distribution centres with 30 drones each.

El-Rufai said Kaduna had also upgraded 255 primary health centres, installed a pharmagrade warehouse and is recruiting and training 3,000 officers to manage the facilities.

– Thomson Reuters Foundation

ZIMBABWE has set aside $100 million to acquire COVID-19 vaccines but the government is still waiting for its scientists to recommend which type to buy, a state-owned newspaper has reported.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government, which is grappling with an economic crisis and acute shortages of foreign exchange, has been criticised for being too slow to announce its vaccination plans.

George Guvamatanga, the ministry of finance secretary, told the Sunday Mail that the government would use funds from a 2020 budget surplus and reallocate some of this year’s budget to buy the vaccines.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in November that a budget surplus was expected for 2020, although final figures have not yet been published.

“The Government has set aside US$100 million for the vaccines to procure around 20 million vaccine doses to immunise 60% of the population, which will help us attain herd immunity,” Guvamatanga said, adding that the government was awaiting advice from scientists on which vaccine to buy and where to procure it.

Guvamatanga could not be reached for further comment.

Zimbabwe, with a population of about 15 million, has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases. More than half of its total 33,273 infections and more than two-thirds of the country’s 1,193 deaths have been recorded this month alone.

The country’s health system has been crumbling for years and is now struggling to cope with the spike in cases. Among those who have died in recent days were two cabinet ministers, a retired general and other high-ranking officials.

Anger among overwhelmed medics is adding to broader public dissatisfaction with Mnangagwa, who pledged an economic revival after he took over from the late Robert Mugabe following a coup in 2017.

– Thomson Reuters Foundation