Ethiopian Startup Prepares to Scale UVC Room Sterilizer Regionally

Ethiopia has been touted as a frontier market in health innovation technologies as more young innovators continue to come up with local solutions for health challenges in the country. Villgro Kenya first ventured into the region when it supported Simbona Africa’s locally manufactured Neonatal Jaundice Treatment unit. Recently, the team manufactured a locally assembled UVC Room Sterilizer which was awarded a $15,000 COVID-19 response grant from Villgro Kenya to help ramp up their production.

The  UVC apparatus is fitted with UVC lamps (8 watts) that emit high-intensity ultraviolet light that is able to kill microorganisms and pathogens found on surfaces in the room. It has the ability to disinfect up to 40 square meters of a room at any given time. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the entire UV spectrum can kill or inactivate many microorganisms, but UVC energy provides the most germicidal effect. This is considered a breakthrough in the fight against the novel coronavirus as the rays are able to kill all known viruses.  

The UVC room sterilizer is intended for use in hospital rooms, wards, and medical equipment where the virus is most likely to spread. To ensure the safety of the people operating it, the apparatus is placed in an empty room and switched on for 5-10 minutes before anyone is allowed to come back in. Habtamu Abafoge, Simbona Africa’s founder, says they have put the safety of the staff first by training and giving a manual that outlines how to use the apparatus efficiently. This speaks to their role in the ecosystem as they are also helping the government come up with protocols for upcoming innovative medical devices.

“Locally produced medical devices have been out of the scope for Ethiopia and Simbona has paved the way for the government to adopt standards for WHO Class II Medical Devices. One such case is when the International Ethiopian Standard Agency adopted the International Electrotechnical Commission Standards to give approval certificates for the phototherapy units and baby warmers. This innovation went through the Ethiopian Radiation Protection Authority,” said Habtamu Abafoge.

For innovative startups like Simbona Africa, the pandemic presented an opportunity to think on their feet and come up with solutions for their region due to the global shortage of devices and equipment. Experience has come in handy for the team and they have not faced a big challenge developing this product, as UVC apparatuses do not require clinical trials.

Habtamu, who has a biomedical engineering background, said they have already produced 14 units which they have sold mainly to the Ministry of Health and they hope to increase their production to at least 40 apparatus to help contain the virus in Ethiopia. 

“Since we made the post on our website and Facebook page we have received calls from hotels, homes, businesses, and schools requesting for the machines, however, our location at Jimma poses a geographical challenge and we are currently in talks with the Ministry of Health and Medical Distributors to help deliver our product,” he explained.

With the right partners, they hope to scale across East Africa to ensure the device reaches more countries and helps them fight the disease. The COVID-19 Response Solutions grant they received from Villgro Kenya will go a long way in helping them scale their production and unlock networks with relevant authorities within the region.  “We are seeing exciting new innovations and strong talent flowing from Ethiopia, we are keen to support the growth of this team and sector in the country,” says Rob Beyer, a co-founder of Villgro Kenya.

Habtamu welcomed the grant saying, “We welcome Villgro Kenya’s financial support as it will help bridge the demand gap we are currently facing. The partnership will also be key in unlocking networks in the Ministry of innovation and Technology and the Ministry of Health due to its status as a regional Impact Investor for Innovations. We have plans to scale to East Africa due to the regional demand which has been brought about by the pandemic.”

Innovators like Habtamu continue to show the importance of a vibrant innovation ecosystem in opening economies and providing local solutions to health challenges faced in their communities. He credits the progress to the Government of Ethiopia, which has been a positive partner that is open to receiving ideas that have the potential to impact the people positively. As the East African region is gradually lifting curfews the UVC room sterilizer will help complement the COVID-19 preventive measures as countries strive to adapt to the new normal.