Scientific innovations help Zimbabwe combat COVID-19

Prof. Paul Mapfumo

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Despite facing an economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19, the southern African country of Zimbabwe has been at the forefront of investing in scientific innovations.

“There is a deliberate distinct focus on innovation and the research. The current thrust is on how the scientific approach and technology can deliver industrialization, and address primarily the building of a critical knowledge capital and relevant skills,” Paul Mapfumo, vice-chancellor of the University of Zimbabwe told Anadolu Agency coinciding the World Science Day for Peace and Development being observed by the UNESCO on Wednesday.

Zimbabwe’s Science Ambassador and Director of Elevate Trust Sicelo Dube said the COVID-19 was a wake-up call to promote young entrepreneurs to innovate and help the poor.

Soon after the COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the costs of sanitizers, protective equipment, and masks shot up beyond the reach of a common man. The cheapest 500 sanitizers would cost not less than $10. An ordinary mask was sold at $3.

Dube said that within months, with the help of local innovators, who started production, the sanitizers and masks were sold for less than $1.

Harare Institute of Technology (HIT) began producing ventilators which were key to treating COVID-19 patients during the early stages.

According to Mapfumo, his university played a key leadership role in the country’s successful response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We now produce sanitizers and PPEs, cough mixer and ventilators, that would have been imported from I don’t know where given that all global countries were seeking to satisfy their needs first. Some people may not realize how huge this is as a response, but many do know and appreciate,” he said.

According to statistics conducted by the Government of National Unity (GNU) from 2009-2013, Zimbabwe’s critical skills stood at a meager 38% yet the country’s learning and literacy levels were above 90%.

Innovation hub at university

This forced government to come up with the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) mission and offered students to study free technical subjects up to the university level.

In 2019, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa launched the innovation hub at the University of Zimbabwe to help with teaching, research, community engagement, innovation, and industrialization.

“We have come up with a flagship program and the first crop of innovators has already gotten to a stage where we are registering startup companies involving students and lecturers and now getting to incubate these companies,” said Mapfumo.

“This inspired other many students and key stakeholders, yielding new productive partnerships. We are not yet there but have started very well,” Mapfumo added.

But many people said that despite such programs, the financial sector in the country is not optimized to take advantage of innovations.

“Our banks should come up with models that support innovation such that when students graduate from universities, they are ready to run their production entities,” Pardon Gatsi, founder of TechUnzipped — an online technology and innovation magazine told Anadolu Agency.