Neo Hutiri, A 31-yr-old South African Engineer Has Won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

31-year-old South African electrical engineer, Neo Hutiri has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s 2019 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. He is the first South African to win the prestigious Africa Prize.


Hutiri and his team developed ‘Pelebox’, a smart locker system designed to dispense medicine to patients with chronic conditions. Pelebox is used at public healthcare facilities in South Africa, cutting down on long queues and easing pressure on the healthcare system.

Neo Hutiri
2019 Africa Prize winner – Neo Hutiri, PELEBOX, South Africa

Pelebox is a simple wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system. Healthcare workers stock the lockers with prescription refills, log the medicine on the system, and secure each locker. Pelebox then sends patients a one-time PIN, which they use to open their locker and access their medicine.

Pelebox Smart Lockers
Pelebox Smart Lockers

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. Now in its fifth year, it encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers, from all disciplines, to develop innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new and appropriate way.

Four finalists from across sub-Saharan Africa delivered presentations at an awards ceremony in Kampala, Uganda, on 4 June 2019, with the Africa Prize judges and a live audience voting for the most promising engineering innovation.

Hutiri from Johannesburg received 25,000GBP for his smart locker system that is currently dispensing chronic medicine in 6 South African public clinics.

“Hutiri is a deserving winner. Pelebox will improve healthcare for everyone using and working in a severely strained public healthcare system,” said Africa Prize judge, John Lazar.

The three runners up, who each win £10,000, are:

  • KAOSHI, Chukwunonso Arinze from Nigeria – a mobile app that connects money senders across the globe
  • Smart Havens Africa, Anne Rweyora from Uganda – sustainable smart homes built from appropriate and affordable technologies, designed to make home ownership more accessible to African women
  • Sign-IO, Roy Allela from Kenya – a mobile app with smart gloves that track and translate sign language movements into speech and text in real time

Hutiri commented: “Winning the Africa Prize is a massive achievement for us. We can now ramp up our manufacturing efforts using the prize money. The networks we are part of will also be instrumental for the growth of our business.”

ALSO READ: Nigerian Startup, Wecyclers wins €200,000 prize for waste management

A Battle with Tuberculosis Inspired His Smart Medicine Dispenser

After being diagnosed with tuberculosis in January 2014, Neo Hutiri needed medicines monthly in order to treat it. Every visit meant spending up to three and a half hours in a queue waiting for his turn at the hospital pharmacy in Johannesburg. “Most of the other patients that waited along with me had to miss work just to collect their medicine,” he says.

The notorious queues propelled Hutiri, an electrical engineer, to come up with the Pelebox Smart Locker, a digital dispenser installed in hospitals and stocked with routine medicines by healthcare workers. In comparison, Pelebox dispenses medicines within just 36 seconds.

The Tswana word ‘pele’ “has three meanings: quickly, in front and first. The idea was to build a solution that’s patient-centric and ensures people are served quickly,” Hutiri, 31, says.

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