SEATTLE, Washington — The global impact of COVID-19 has been staggering. Social distancing has become a norm and wearing a mask has become mandatory. As of September 2, 2020, there have been almost 26 million total cases of COVID-19 globally, with over six million people still currently infected. Kenya’s rate of COVID-19 cases is considered moderate as its infection numbers do not rank in the highest or the lowest of global statistics. In Kenya, COVID-19 cases are over 34,000 and the numbers continue to rise. One young inventor, a 9-year-old Kenyan boy named Stephen Wakumota, has created an innovative low-cost wooden handwashing machine that could curb the spread of the virus in the country. His COVID-19 invention has the potential to save millions of lives in Kenya and possibly around the world too.
The Prevalence of Viruses in Kenya
Even though COVID-19 has not hit Kenya the hardest, in the past, the country has experienced epidemic after epidemic. Kenya’s top causes of death are diarrheal diseases, HIV/AIDS and TB. In fact, Kenya has the fifth-highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the entire world, with close to two million people currently suffering from the disease. According to a 2018 estimate, the disease has been so devastating that it killed just over 25,000 people that year alone. Kenya also has many cases of malaria. Due to the prevalence of diseases in the country, many Kenyans are not unfamiliar with disease prevention tactics. However, COVID-19 is still unfamiliar territory and cases are quickly increasing. In the brief period of June 23 to June 25, there were 178 new cases. Kenya’s general high prevalence of viruses, coupled with the presence of COVID-19, necessitates that steps be taken to minimize contagion.
Stephen Wakumota is a young Kenyan boy who has impressed not just his own county but people across the globe. At only 9 years old, Stephen has created an innovative wooden handwashing machine that makes it possible for anyone to wash their hands without touching the tap. Instead, the machine is powered by foot pumps, one that is pressed to release soap and one that is pressed to release water. This hands-free device would help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in communities where taps are shared communally. Stephen got the idea after watching a TV commercial that advertised ways to prevent the spread of the virus. Stephen’s father came home to find him building the COVID-19 invention out of wood that was intended for a window.
After Stephen’s father helped him finish the machine, he posted about Stephen’s handwashing device on Facebook and instantly received recognition for the invention. The invention was so successful that Stephen was one of 68 people to receive the Presidential Order of Service Uzalendo Award for his positive contribution to the country.
Stephen didn’t just receive the Presidential Award, he also received a scholarship promise from the governor of the county in which he lives. The scholarship would give Stephen the chance to complete his education through to the end of high school. Stephen, who dreams of being an engineer, hopes that with this opportunity he will be able to go on to do many more great things.
Next Steps for Stephen’s Handwashing Invention
As of today, Stephen has created two handwashing machines but he hopes to make more. He has even asked his father for coins so that he can create a metal version of the machine. As his machine gains recognition, he hopes that it will be used around the world. Stephen’s COVID-19 invention proves that even the youngest of minds have the power to make a big impact and provides hope and optimism amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
– Lucia Kenig-Ziesler