Makerere University unveils COVID-19 PPE decontaminator

Responding to a recent call by the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance under the National ICT Initiatives Support Programme for innovators to develop solutions for health services or other public delivery systems, several Ugandan innovators have quickly run to their hubs to think of what answers they can develop.

A team from Makerere University Department of Electrical and Mechanical Engineering headed by Dr Cosmas Mwikirize recently launched a device that decontaminates COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment especially face masks.

According to Dr Mwikirize, masks can become infectious after being used and in order to stop this infection and allow reuse, they first need to be decontaminated. This according to Mwikirize was the stimulus for the device as they thought about health workers in the country, especially at facilities in rural Uganda grappling with availability of PPEs.

“If I am a typical health worker and I have just used a mask, at that point it would be considered infectious waste so I would have needed to enclose it after using it in a zip lock. For example at the end of the week I may have like 10 masks which I put there hence running a cycle that is pertinent to the masks I have used,” he says.

He explains that in the event one wants to decontaminate masks that are used by different people, the masks should be tagged to ensure that the person that used the mask before is the one to use it again after decontamination.

Dr Mwikirize further reveals that there is no need to worry about the device as the working principle is that their device is self-cleansing so everything in it will be killed once they run the protocol.

“From literature, we see that the virus will be destroyed at a temperature of about 65-75℃. Obviously, a high temperature would be even better but we want to maintain a temperature that doesn’t destroy the material of the mask and for you to maintain the structural integrity of the mask, we cannot go beyond 65-75℃,” he explains.

He notes that the innovation industry lacks a regulatory framework for bringing some of the innovations to the market.

“It is still hazy because it is a bit of an unchartered territory. We can solve that through engaging different stakeholders such as UNBS so that we produce products that are of international standard. This country has the potential to not only innovate for herself but the whole region,” says Dr Mwikirize.

He further calls upon everyone to embrace the innovations in order to add something to the country.

“Let us innovate towards solving the challenges at hand not just COVID-19, but challenges we have in the wider healthcare system,” he urges.

While he notes some innovators may lack the resources to fund their projects, Dr Mwikirize says they are fortunate to be funded by government through the Makerere Research Innovation Fund (M-RIF). 

About the decontaminator

The structure is similar to an oven but the novelty lies in the decontamination process that has been implemented. It has a compartment into which the masks are placed, a heating element acts as a base on which the masks sit. On the ceiling, there is an ultraviolet light that gives a power density of 139pw/cm2.

It additionally has sensors that monitor temperature and humidity in all corners of the device so that the ambience is maintained throughout.

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