As the number of COVID-19 cases in Africa continues to grow, local authorities are racing to cope with a critical shortage of medical equipment and treatment facilities. According to the World Health Organisation, there are fewer than 5,000 ICU beds and 2,000 ventilators to treat the hundreds of millions of people living in 41 African countries. In an uplifting bid to help prevent a severe outbreak, inventors, makers and engineers across the continent have leapt into action. Many communities are now developing innovative, low-cost solutions to promote sanitation and hygiene in areas with the most fragile healthcare systems. 


Knowing that basic measures like hand-washing remain the most powerful tool to limit the spread of the virus, creatives are banding together to install custom-made taps and sinks in communities with little access to running water. In Lesotho, for example, RISE and XYZ Collaborative have created simple hand-washing stations made from common materials. Each metal structure is fitted with two sets of plastic buckets and bowls, which are properly distanced and act as water tanks and sinks. The first batch of ten has already been distributed in public spaces across Motimposo, and the group are now working on adapting their design to fit more needs and locations.

Double handwashing stations by RISE & XYZ Collaborative.


In Ghana, a young entrepreneur by the name of Richard Kwarteng has invented a solar-powered hand-washing sink which is fitted with a motion sensor. When a hand goes beneath the tap, a flow of soapy water is immediately released. Then, a noise is emitted for 25 seconds, after which clean water is automatically dispensed for rinsing. All of this encourages proper hand-washing technique while requiring zero physical contact with any surfaces. Kwarteng is now collaborating with industry experts to prepare his design for mass production. “We are going to employ a lot of people and get this thing on the market, because lots of calls are coming in for orders and we can’t fail Ghanaians and Africans,” he was quoted as saying.

In Kenya, nine-year old Stephen Wamukota is causing a stir with his invention, which also allows for hands-free washing, this time through the use of a smart, foot-operated lever. Wamukota said that he came up with the idea after watching many people struggle to wash their hands in line with COVID-19 guidelines. His community is now urging the local county to install more of the low-cost, low-tech design in the area.


In a similar vein, the Tippy Tap is a hands-free device for hand-washing which was especially designed for use in rural areas. It was first introduced in Zimbabwe, and a number of variations have since been adopted in many other countries around the world. The simplest of all the examples so far, a Tippy Tap can be made with locally-sourced materials at virtually no cost. All that is needed to build one is a few sticks, string, soap and a jug or container for the water. The mechanism is also extremely water efficient, requiring an average of only 40ml of water for one wash.

Tippy Tap illustration

Tippy Tap illustration by Hero in My Hood.

Projects like these — economical, easy to build, effective — are giving vulnerable communities a fighting chance in containing local transmissions of COVID-19. At the very least, they also act as symbols and reminders of public health policies, and encourage a culture of hygiene which will remain useful after the pandemic. To see more innovations like these, visit the archive of the Covid-Free Toolkit, which collects similar actions from around Africa.

Top image: Stephen Wamukota by Daily Nation Kenya.