Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Simple Innovations Are Tackling Africa’s Hardest Problems

August 28, 2012

When it comes to “innovation” do you think “plastic drinking straw”? No, me neither. But an article in the Guardian over the weekend serves as an excellent reminder that innovation doesn’t have to be technologically-complex in order to be transformative. Common household objects, like the plastic drinking straw or net, redeployed, have prevented millions of deaths in the developing world from Guinea worm and malaria.

A couple of weeks ago, a lot of cool innovations were on display at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair at the Gates Foundation campus in Seattle. The fair showcased these “reinvented toilets” from around the world to inspire sanitation solutions for the 2.5 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to safe and affordable sanitation. It’s true that some of these were technologically-complex. With names like “vortex bioreactor” and “combustion toilet,” some of the toilet prototypes frankly looked like they could have transported me back to the future. My favorite used a large solar panel to convert water to steam and then sterilize human waste. The point is, innovation in any form can help change the world.

Here are three simple innovations highlighted in the article that are also tackling Africa’s hardest problems:

  • “The Hippo water roller is a drum that can be rolled on the ground, making it easier for those without access to taps to haul larger amounts of water faster.
  • The brightly colored "Tutu Tester" van is a mobile clinic that incorporates screening for tuberculosis (TB) and HIV into a general health check-up in order to overcome the stigma associated with these diseases.
  • Narrative exposure therapy (NET) for Uganda's former child soldiers encourages storytelling to help come to terms with their experiences.”

What’s your innovation to help solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges?

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