At the entrance to Makerere University main building, a black box with markings ‘wash your hands' greets you.
The equipment, dubbed Touchless Hand Wash (TW-20), was designed and built by Makerere University researchers and alumni. Its acronym, TW means touch-less wash, whereas the "20" means the 20 seconds recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to effectively wash hands with soap.
When you get closer to the equipment, one can only see a solar panel on top of the box. However, as soon as the kit senses your presence, it asks you to place your hands under the tap for liquid soap and water and wash your hands.
Thereafter, the handwashing process goes on uninterrupted for about 20 seconds.
Dr Joshua Wanyama, the principal investigator of the project, said the machine eliminates chances of people using it touching the same surfaces, which limits exposure to germs.
Wanyama, who also works at the Makerere University College of Agricultural and Environmental Studies, said the TW-20 kit was developed as responsive technology to the coronavirus pandemic, resulting from the need to limit contact with surfaces while ensuring diligent hand hygiene.
"The TW-20 kit does not allow you to physically touch soap as it is with the ordinary handwashing equipment. This will help us eliminate chances of contracting diseases, beside the coronavirus," Wanyama said.
Prof Barnabas Nawangwe, the Makerere University vicechancellor, said innovations by Ugandans, such at the TW-20, will create opportunities for the youth.
"When I saw that kit for the first time, I thought it was imported from China. But everything was done here. This is where the country should be heading," he said.
"If such commercially viable ideas by students are taken up by investors and Government, we will increase our competitive advantage on the continent as innovators. The likes of Singapore and South Korea did the same."
Nawangwe made the remarks yesterday during a media engagement and handover of the touch-less handwash kits to Mulago National Referral Hospital and Makerere University College of Health Sciences.
The ceremony was held at Makerere University Main Hall.
Developing the kit
The development of the equipment started in March, when Uganda confirmed its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The idea was developed by Badaye Technologies Limited, a private company owned by a young Makerere University Alumnus, Julius Mugaga.
Mugaga, a biomedical engineer, embarked on designing the prototype to automate handwashing.
Once the prototype was concluded, he said, it was installed in Kasubi-Kawaala and at Kawaala Health Centre IV in Kampala for a month.
This was done to obtain fieldbased preliminary results for proof of concept and feedback for users.
Based on the results, there was need to improve the design of the kit and thus Badaye Technologies sought help from Makerere University to advance the project further.
The university guided that Badaye partners with the department of agricultural and biosystems engineering, and the department of biomedical engineering unit.
With support from Makerere University Research and Innovation Fund, the design was improved.
The project has since moved from just two kits to 15 in fi ve months.
"The 15 kits have been fabricated and installed at different public spaces in the Kampala Metropolitan Area," Mugaga said.
According to data shared by Makerere University, the kits have been installed at Makerere University, in markets such as Nakasero, Nakawa, Mbuya, Kalerwe and Luwero town market.
The kits have also been installed at hospitals and health centres, such as Makerere University Hospital, Mulago, Kawempe, Kiruddu, Entebbe Grade B and Mukono and Kawaala Health Centre IVs.
The TW-20 handwashing machine has an audio guide for user interaction in customised languages, Julius Mugaga, who developed the idea, said.
In addition, Mugaga said the kit has remote monitoring, digital communication and daily use data transmission via the TW-20 view platform for users.
According to Mugaga, this enables the user to monitor whether people wash their hands or not and compels an investigation.
"At the moment, when you visit markets with the ordinary handwash kits, they seem to have abandoned them. But our kit tells whether= people are washing their hands or not," he said.
From the installed kits, the 15 kits had recorded over 65,000 hand washes as of Sunday, a week after installation.
Mugaga said the kit is a hybrid and that it can use both solar and hydroelectricity. It also has an inbuilt battery that can be recharged.
Dr Rosemary Byanyima, the deputy director of Mulago Hospital, said every public place needs such a kit.