Western international development agencies tend to portray the continent of Africa as a basket-case, a place that needs to be saved by the “highly developed” western countries. Contrary to the conventional and paternalistic wisdom, African people throughout the continent represent huge sources of technological, environmental, and – especially – health innovations. The western world could take a few notes from scientists and inventors throughout the African continent.
For example, the Clay House Project, a non-profit health organization based in Namibia has recently introduced new advanced dry toilet technology to improve sanitation throughout the world. The inventor of the dry toilet, a device that does what the name suggests, provides a sanitary mechanism that does not require precious water supplies and could improve the health of 2.6 billion people. Lack of access to proper sanitation, currently causes major sanitation problems that can be avoided by utilizing the new technology.
Elsewhere, in South Africa, researchers have invented a vaginal gel which radically reduces a woman’s risk of the contraction of HIV. According to World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, more than 30 million people are living with HIV/AIDS on the planet. It is well known that South Africa has a high rate of HIV infections. New technology like this is a truly significant innovation and improvement in South African health.
An especially interesting and impressive environmental innovation was made by a Malawian inventor, William Kamkwamba. When Kamkwamba was 14 years old, he engineered and built an electricity-generating wind
mill for his family from parts he found around his home and village. He taught himself this relatively complex technology from instructions he found in a book. Kamkwamba is featured in an inspiring video produced by the non-profit,
TED, featured here and pictured below.
If the Namibian inventors of dry toilet technology, the South African HIV/AIDS researchers, and innovators like William Kamkwamba can produce and distribute their innovative technology, they could improve the combined health of nearly 3 billion people. That’s nearly half the world’s population, and three-quarters of the developing world.
Smith, Jana-Mari. “Namibia: Locally Invented Toilet to Improve Lives of Millions.” AllAfrica.com. 5 July 2010
 Brown, David. “Gel Found to Reduce AIDS Risk in Women.” The Washington Post. 20 July 2010