The IRC has named Samuel Kamunyu Karuru of Ghana and Reginah Onyango of Rwanda as the winners of the Wazoku crowdsourcing challenge to improve the last mile delivery of essential medical supplies. 

This latest completed challenge was launched in July 2023 and focused on finding new and improved solutions to help medical supplies like medications and surgical equipment reach rural communities. Delivering the medical supplies that the IRC’s clients need requires the creation and maintenance of efficient and reliable supply chains, often to locales and contexts that are difficult to access or navigate. 

In 2022, in Sierra Leone alone, trucks were used to deliver 95 types of free healthcare supplies to 1,386 clinics. However, supplies were reported having arrived damaged, having exceeded safe temperatures, or not having arrived at all. A resultant loss factor of 12% across the distribution cycles was attributed in part to problems with the packaging and transport of supplies.

From July to October 2023, the Challenge gathered worldwide attention in 49 different countries. This led to 180 registrants and 92 proposal submissions from 33 different countries. Solvers’ innovative proposals gave the IRC concrete options to replace the existing, one-time-use cardboard boxes with improved, sustainable and effective packaging. The 92 solutions were whittled down to 42 by expert IRC evaluators and health stakeholders, followed by a shortlist of 9 finalists. 

Karuru and Onyango’s winning solution for this challenge will be awarded US$25,000. The solution proposes using packaging for shipping made of corrugated polypropylene. Using this material for packaging results in boxes that are reusable, heat and moisture resistant, light weight, fireproof and insulated. As a result, materials that need to be kept at a certain temperature can be transported safely using this packaging. It is estimated that each packaging box made from this material would cost US$4.61 to produce, making this solution both innovative and cost-effective.  

Samuel Karuru is an engineer who specializes in using computational methods to improve electro-mechanical systems. He is currently pursuing a joint Master’s through ETH Zurich and Ashesi University in Berekuso, Ghana. Reginah Onyango, his partner in developing and submitting this solution, is a mechanical engineer who currently works as a Vehicle Production Manager in Kigali, Rwanda. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Kenyatta University in mechanical engineering, and certifications in project management, Computer Aided Design, and lean frameworks. 

Karuru said: “Learning about the challenge, I had never been so convinced that I should get something done. Feasibility was a challenge, and we liaised with suppliers/manufacturers to ensure that it could also be implemented easily. It was very rewarding when we settled on our final idea and even did some paper models to visualize the final product. The evaluation process was a long nail-biting experience, but learning about the win was just incredible: something I am still recovering from.” 

Onyango said: “It was very fulfilling to have a design that we both had a lot of confidence in after putting in many hours and the result was a confirmation that we actually got it right. We are eagerly anticipating new challenges and opportunities from the IRC, SeaFreight Labs, Wazoku, and their partners.”

The IRC has other open innovation Challenges open to the public for their innovative ideas, proposals, and prototypes in exchange for financial awards and collaboration, viewable here