Making of the Vein Locator

In Uganda and in many other LMICs, more than 80% of the patients admitted into hospital wards need intravenous cannulation to deliver fluids and medications or for withdrawing blood. In the case of Pediatric patients, older adults, obese patients, patients with low blood pressure and/or dark skinned patients, this procedure is often very difficult and requires complex skill for clinicians to locate a vein beneath the patient's skin. Failed attempts may result into further complications and In order to ensure safe administration of intravenous fluids and drugs, electronic devices are necessary.

Paul Gusimba, a Hardware Engineering student, and Emmanuel Kamuhire , a Data communications Engineer, first came to Kenya in 2017 as Ishow finalists. They were showcasing their first prototype of the A-Lite Vein Locator, a low cost, non- invasive light-weight blood vessel illuminator designed to alleviate the Clinician’s work burden associated with finding a proper vein during peripheral intravenous cannulation among children with barely visible or palpable veins.

In mid-2018, the team made a visit to our offices at Industrial Area in Nairobi, where the plan to improve their prototype was quickly launched across the East Africa borders. The first generation prototype was built by assembling red LEDs on two separate breadboards with the intention of proving the possibility to visualize the veins.

Gearbox was tasked to improve the design to allow clinicians to cannulate with their hands free, incorporated end users feedback and develop a product suitable for both usability and performance testing with a device charging system and 3D-printed casing.

The vein locator uses the principle of red light absorption by deoxy-hemoglobin content in the patient’s vein. Deoxy-hemoglobin in the vein absorbs red light and veins therefore show up clearly on the patient’s skin against the brighter red background of the surrounding tissues. In addition, red light is non-ionizing in nature, harmless to human skin and does not need extra equipment to process the image.

The first prototype we built was sent back to Uganda for assessment by the team: Solomon Oshabahebwa, a Biomedical engineering student, Julius Mubiru and Brian Ssenkumba who are medical students. The prototype was tested in Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital and Holy Innocents Children Hospital which through a Human Centered Design, a few changes were made to optimize the features of the products.

By September 2019, Paul Gusimba, who had spent several days at our workshop, left for Uganda with a fully functional vein locator locally customized for the people of Uganda.

Paul Gusimba working with Michael Wairagu on the vein locator circuit board

The end users of this innovation are the clinicians and the target customers are: health facilities in Uganda. The beneficiaries of this innovation are patients with difficulty in vein location. For critically ill patients, every second counts and therefore we believe that the device will serve as a convenient non-invasive tool in identifying potential cannulation sites leading to: reduced tissue trauma, reduced economic costs, and higher patient satisfaction.

For the vein locator Uganda team, namely, Emmanuel Kamuhire, Paul Gusimba, Solomon Oshabahebwa, Julius Mubiru, and Brian Ssenkumba, it was a pleasure working with you.


Ex-UK PM Tony Blair tours, endorses Gearbox as key facility in stimulating innovation

Ex-UK PM, Tony Blair, while on visit to Kenya recently, took the opportunity to spend time at Nairobi-based engineering innovation hub, Gearbox.

Dr. Kamau Gachigi with Tony Blair outside Gearbox

Dr. Kamau Gachigi with Tony Blair outside Gearbox

In a speech focusing on the opportunities for development in Africa, created by technology access, Blair emphasized the complementary need to also motivate access to skills learning, apply relevant information and to increase the capacity in vocational teaching for the young. He further complimented the Kenya government for playing an important role by pushing the Big 4 Agenda as part of meeting this need. He further stated that it is the application of innovation, which is key to positive change.

Commenting, Blair said; “Gearbox creates a platform to which people can come and get help, and, over time, hopefully Gearbox can expand so what it is provided here (in Nairobi, Kenya), for a limited number of people can be provided on a much larger scale. In the end, it is about scaling up these opportunities (like you see here today).

Blair emphasized that whilst access to information is important, it is the application of technology in a way which solves real problems, that is important and that, especially the young, need a strong degree of guidance on how they apply their ideas on the continent.

Tony Blair speaking at Gearbox

Tony Blair speaking at Gearbox

Blair further stated; “It’s about teaching our young people to be creative thinkers, the Internet and technology can give you the information, but the teachers are going to have to becoming guides in order to enable people to think creatively, because when you think creatively, you come up with these types of inventions. That’s when you have the ability to adapt as the world around you changes. The one thing for sure is, these changes are going to accelerate.”

He also added, that it is important that Kenya plays her role on the broader continental scene; noting thus: “Kenya, within the context of Africa, is known as the center for technological and innovation.”

Commenting on his visit to the Gearbox facility in Nairobi, Blair also said; “What you are doing here at Gearbox is an amazing example [of innovation] and I really do congratulate you.” He added; “Gearbox is a really practical way in which things can be done.” 

Commenting, Gearbox founder and Executive Director, Dr. Kamau Gachigi said; “Technology can and should be made by the people who live with the problems it solves. This is a key driver for the existence of Gearbox and is one of the reasons I opened this hub. For people to manufacture goods that will solve their everyday issues, they need access to powerful tools and support. Gearbox’s model for building maker spaces in this emerging market, is to provide that support, sustainably, while casting the widest possible net for local innovation. Africans have great ideas and incubating those ideas as well as allowing the great minds to grow is important for the continent’s development in this age defined by the 4th industrial revolution.”

Tony Blair pose with the community of innovators and makers from Gearbox

Tony Blair pose with the community of innovators and makers from Gearbox

To date, Gearbox has supported the enablement of hundreds of people develop both themselves and their ideas, working across a whole series of innovation applications. In addition, it is supporting the return of skills to local communities to foster the growth of wealth within informal settlement economies.