Vice Chancellor launches recyclable-water hand-washing machine in response to Covid-19

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe today March 4th, 2021 launched a new innovation and at the same time called upon researchers to increase their efforts to contribute to the development of the country and the communities they live in. Prof. Nawangwe was launching the recyclable water hand-washing machine, an innovation by Dr. Peter Olupot. Dr Olupot is a senior lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology.

“Makerere University trains the best human resource in the country but we can not continue to be a teaching university only, we have to undertake research relevant to communities,” Prof. Nawangwe said.

Prof. Nawangwe commended the research team for the timely innovation which would help address the water challenge in many communities across the country. “There are many communities that use stagnant water. This innovation will address water challenges in these communities as well as busy areas such as markets,” he said. In addition, he called on researchers to adopt a multidisciplinary approach to research for greater relevance and impact in society. In this way, he emphasized that research teams should include economists to ensure that such innovations are affordable and therefore readily commercialized whilst also contributing to Uganda’s industrialization effort.

The innovation was funded under the Makerere University Research and Innovation Fund, which is annually allocated Ug Shs 30 billion by the government of Uganda. The fund’s representative, Dr Robinah Kulabako thanked the government for its continued support towards research and innovation. Dr. Kulabako said over 500 research teams had benefited from the fund so far in the last two years.  

She said the research fund had taken Makerere University closer to the communities as “we propose ways to address diverse community challenges”.

Because of the research fund, output and innovation has increased, which in turn has improved the ranking of the university as the 5th best in Africa, according to webometrics of 2020.

She congratulated the research team on their achievement and encouraged others to engage in research that aligns with the country’s National Development Plan III.

The Principal, Prof. Henry Alinaitwe, congratulated Dr Olupot and his research team upon completion of the recyclable water hand-washing innovation prototype. He encouraged other researchers to follow their example.

About the Machine

The hand washing innovation comprises an appropriate wastewater treatment system, integrated with a solar photovoltaic unit for powering the control system which, i) automates pumping of water to the different components, ii) auto-releases the detergent, iii) supports the touchless function of a standalone handwashing station and iv) supports auto-audio guidance for handwashing. It is also equipped with a liquid soap auto-dispenser, tissue paper purveyor, and a bin for sanitization, hand drying, and for disposal of used tissue paper, respectively. The design of the treatment system was based on data and information gathered from hand washing facilities installed at selected public places in Kampala city. The selected treatment system was configured with judiciously selected particle sizes of silica sand, zeolite, and granular activated carbon as filtration and/or adsorption media, followed by its performance evaluation towards amelioration of turbidity, true colour, apparent colour, total suspended solids (TSS), total coliforms, and E.coli in the handwashing wastewater.

After running the handwashing wastewater through the configured treatment system, the treated water exhibited a turbidity of 5 FAU, true colour of 10 PtCo, apparent colour of 6 PtCo, and TSS of 9 mgL-1, translating to removal efficiencies of 98.5, 98.1, 99.7, and 96.9%, respectively. Total coliforms and E.coli were completely eliminated by disinfection using 0.5 mL NaOCl (3.5% w/v) per liter of treated water. The treated water thus meets WHO and UNICEF standards for handwashing purposes. This innovation provides a resilient solution for the provision of safe water particularly for water-stressed and public settings, thus helping to curb the spread of COVID-19 and other infections while also saving water.

Why the machine?

Handwashing with soap and clean water is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. However, the handwashing practice still remains limited among some communities in Uganda where about 51 percent and 82 percent still lack access to safe water and improved sanitation facilities respectively. This scenario disproportionately affects the poor, refugees, and/or displaced persons in crowded settlements, exposing them to high risks of spreading COVID-19, as well as other illnesses. With the additional challenge of water scarcity among such communities, handwashing wastewater could be diverted from going down the drain, and instead treated for subsequent recycling.