According to the World Health Organization, health-care-associated infection (HAI) is a major global safety concern for both patients and health-care professionals. HAI is defined as an infection occurring in a patient during the process of care in a hospital or other health-care facility that was not manifest or incubating at the time of admission. These infections, often caused by multiresistant pathogens, take a heavy toll on patients and their families by causing illness, prolonged hospital stay, potential disability, excess costs and sometimes death, and the burden of HAI is already substantial in developed countries, where it affects from 5% to 15% of hospitalized patients in regular wards and as many as 50% or more of patients in intensive care units (ICUs).

Grace Nakibaala, a young Ugandan architect, has come up with a solution to improve hygiene in hospitals, through an innovation that is making it easier to wash hands. Her invention, called PedalTap, is an affordable, portable hands free foot operated water tap dispensing system. The PedalTap technology involves modifying the existing water tap system to create a no touch cost effective solution for developing countries that reduces the growth and frequency of potent and infectious diseases spread like flu, cholera, Ebola on existing taps. Effective hand hygiene could contribute to a 60% reduction in hospital care associated infections spread in public facilities.

Grace’s innovation, passion and dedication to come up with solutions to solve challenges in society earned her an accolade as one of the three winners of the recent Johnson & Johnson Africa Innovation Challenge. The challenge was created as part of Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to help strengthen public health programs and systems in Africa—a commitment the company has bolstered with the recent opening of operations hubs in Ghana and Kenya.

Each of the winners receives funding—along with mentorship from scientists, engineers and operations experts from Johnson & Johnson Consumer Research & Development and other industries — to help bring their ideas to fruition. On learning of the competition Adams & Adams contacted Johnson & Johnson to offer assistance with protection of any Intellectual Property. In 2017 the firm received instructions to file a trade mark application for PedalTap, and earlier this year, the team was asked to file a utility model application at ARIPO.

Although electronic touchless or automatic taps are available on the market in many countries around the world, they tend to be expensive and for this reason, most taps are manually operated by hand through actuation of a knob or lever to control the flow of liquid or gas. It is common knowledge that infectious diseases spread through contact with the skin. A contaminated tap knob or lever defeats the purpose of handwashing due to the fact that a person inevitably makes contact with the knob after handwashing in order to close the tap. Consequently, the person’s hand can still be contaminated with germs following washing.

In order to address this problem, foot-operated or hands-free taps have been developed but have not been ubiquitously adopted. Due to the fact that they include more components and are more complex, these taps tend to be more expensive and more difficult to install than conventional hand-operated taps.

The PedalTap invention provides a foot-operated valve assembly which addresses the aforementioned drawbacks, at least to some extent. “We filed a trade mark application for PedalTap in Uganda as well as an African Regional Intellectual Property Organisation (ARIPO) utility model application for the foot-operated tap designating all 18 member states of ARIPO,” says patent attorney, Wynand Fourie. “The whole process of preparing the specification and drawings and obtaining approval from the client took about three weeks. I am optimistic that the product will be a great success. There are other pedal operated tap designs available but they are not commonly used in industry.”

“We are very excited to be a part of this exciting journey for Grace and her team,” said Head of Africa Patents, Nicky Garnett, of the award and IP process. “We applaud her spirit of entrepreneurship and her innovative approach to solving some of the health challenges faced by ordinary citizens all across our continent. Adams & Adams is a proudly-African law firm and we applaud Johnson & Johnson for their initiatives that encourage innovation and the betterment of life for the people of this continent.”

To learn more about the PedalTap invention, click here.

Click here to watch the video.