The centrifuge is one of the most important diagnostic tools for detecting diseases like malaria and African sleeping sickness.
Unfortunately, it cannot be used in areas where power is unavailable or erratic.
Two female Biomedical Engineering students of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, have developed cheaper hand-powered equipment.
They achieved the feat by converting a whirligig, an age-old local playing device, known in Akan as Akata.
A centrifuge is a high-speed liquid sampling spinning device. It makes heavier materials to travel towards its bottom tube quicker than under force of normal gravity.
In the case of blood, less heavy plasma stays afloat while parasites like malaria-causing plasmodium settle in the middle and blood cells at the bottom tube.
“In malaria diagnosis, centrifuges are very crucial though they are expensive. The cheapest price you can have is about 12,000 cedis and poor communities in the village can’t have it,” said Prince Odame, their supervisor.
The whirligig, locally known as ‘Akata’ is made of flattened crown cork. Two holes at the centre provide a holding place for twine for spinning.
The characteristic humming sound it makes in motion gives it the name, ‘Akatahin’ in Akan.
Final-year Biomedical engineering students, Sanaa Mehmood and Rose Adu Darko, together with the supervisor, Prince Odame, sought to make ‘Akata’ a formidable medical tool.
It comprises electrical junction pipe, a fisherman thread, two cardboard disc straw affixed to the card.
“We employed the junction pipe which is easy to acquire for easy spinning and then we used Velcro to stick the two discs together before we spin,” Sanaa explains the procedure.
A capillary tube is used to draw blood samples and fixed inside the straw.
Sanaa Mehmood and Rose Adu Darko
The hand-powered centrifuge works by holding the spanned electrical junction pipes.
As the operator moves the handle back and forth, it produces a force called torque which causes the disc to rotate.
The rotating tubes containing blood samples are well separated for testing in a matter of 2 minutes.
“We hope hospitals in urban communities where there are dumsor and rural areas can benefit from this as they don’t need a professional to operate it. It’s a simple machine. The good thing is, the price is around 10 cedis,” Sanaa stated.