First Kenyan wins Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for portable vaccine fridge

  • Portable, solar-powered fridge solution to store and transport medicines wins the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation
  • The winner, Norah Magero, is the first Kenyan to win the award
  • Applications are now open for Africa Prize 2023 – the deadline for applications is 19 July 2022

Norah Magero has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2022 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation with Vaccibox, a small, mobile, solar-powered fridge that safely stores and transports medicines like vaccines, for use in field vaccinations and remote clinics. Magero is the first Kenyan to win the award in its eight-year history, and the second woman.

Infrastructure and human resource challenges across Kenya continue to hamper vaccine distribution, with 3 in 10 children not adequately vaccinated. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the cold-chain challenges faced by healthcare practitioners and supply chains in distributing temperature-sensitive medicine were highlighted globally, and remain a problem for many types of vaccines.

“VacciBox was designed with our local challenges in mind. It’s versatile, reliable and localised. We’re ensuring that it works the way healthcare workers need it to work for the conditions they face each day, so that they can save lives without worrying about technology,” said Magero.

The 40 litre VacciBox is portable and lightweight. It can be wheeled or mounted on a bicycle, motorbike or boat, and has a telescopic handle for easy mobility. A built-in thermostat and digital thermometer maintain temperatures required for cold-chain medicines, a battery supply as well as mains and solar panel connectivity and a charge controller, ensure power stability. It can transport blood and tissue and can be monitored remotely to ensure reliability.

“I’ve grown immensely and met such brilliant engineers and non-engineers doing amazing things through the Africa Prize,” said Magero. “This award will help us continue to develop Vaccibox to help get life saving vaccines to many more people.”

Magero wins the first prize of £25,000 (3,667,000 KES). At the virtual awards ceremony held on 15 June 2022, four finalists delivered presentations, before Africa Prize judges and a live audience voted for the most promising engineering innovation.

“We’re delighted to award VacciBox the Africa Prize. The potential impact of improving the cold chain delivery of medicine – especially vaccines – to rural areas is immense,” said Alessandra Buonfino, Africa Prize judge. “Norah truly represents the idea that one innovator can change an entire community. We look forward to watching her and her team scale this innovation to reach even more people.”

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation, and has a proven track record of identifying successful engineering entrepreneurs. Now in its eighth year, it supports talented sub-Saharan African entrepreneurs with engineering innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new way.

The 16 shortlisted Africa Prize entrepreneurs from nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa received eight months of training and mentoring including support with developing business plans, recruitment, IP protection, financing and commercialisation.

The Africa Prize also exposes and connects the shortlist to individuals and networks around the world who can accelerate their business and technology development – from fellow entrepreneurs and mentors to potential investors and suppliers.

The three other finalists, who each receive £10,000, are:

  • Crib A’glow, Virtue Oboro from Nigeria – Foldable photo-therapy cribs that treat jaundice in newborns. The crib can operate on solar or grid power and monitors the baby’s condition.
  • HYENA POWER POD, Jack Fletcher from South Africa – A fuel-cell based hydrogen generator that converts LPG gas into usable electricity, all within one device.
  • Solimi prepaid card, Gaël Egbidi from Togo – A prepaid, Visa-backed card and account that does not require users to be customers of a specific bank, providing unbanked individuals with greater access to the digital economy.