A Tech Start-up, Naija Force, has evolved a mechanism to produce a surgical-grade face mask that would solve global challenges and sustain crucial public health preventive measures.
The Naija Force team won the ‘Mass’k Appeal Award’ and came runner-up in a global contest by XPRIZE Next-Gen Mask Challenge, winning a grant of $250,000 for mask production.
The competition is a $1M challenge, which aims to re-imagine protective face masks used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by making masks more comfortable, functional, accessible and stylish.
The contest received about 1,000 entries from 76 countries.
It encouraged the teams to design a face mask that overcomes at least five of the top ten barriers to mask-wearing.
Common barriers to the use of mask include: fogging of glasses, getting too hot, discomfort, difficulty breathing, making conversations challenging and prohibiting exercise while wearing.
Other barriers are improper fit, pain, blocking facial expressions, preventing eating or drinking, not being eco-friendly, looking ugly or boring and difficulty acquiring the mask.
Naija Force team members are Ifedayo Ojo, an Industrial Product Designer; Samuel Akinola, a UX Researcher and Designer and Arotiba Ayobami, a Business Relation Manager.
Ifedayo Ojo, Team Lead, Naija Force, said that the team would work with top pulmonologists, the John Hopkins University, the U.S. and other partners in the production of the mask which would be useful beyond COVID-19.
He said that utilising innovative technology to upgrade masks would redefine the norm of mask-wearing behaviour and assist maintain crucial non-pharmaceutical public health measures to mitigate the risk and impact of the pandemic.
“Masks have been proven to lower the transmission of COVID-19, reduce the total number of infections, severe cases or deaths.
“Naija Force mask features a soft malleable flange that can conform to the shape of the wearer’s nose.
“This mask is not intended to be a one-fit-all kind but comes in different sizes to fit unique facial contours and forms.
“Not being able to exercise with face masks is as a result of a combination of problems including breathability, fit and comfort which our mask addresses effectively,’’ he said.
According to him, the mask has an openable drinking inlet, through which straws can be inserted for drinking, thus ensuring minimal contact to the bare face.
Ojo noted that adapting to life with COVID-19 was a challenge faced by all globally, saying that evolving solutions that would assist people to live normally and reduce their risk of contracting COVID-19 were crucial.
According to him, as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues globally, adhering to non-pharmaceutical interventions is critical to minimise the disruption that might arise from a third or fourth wave of COVID-19.
He added that the Naija Force’s mission was to provide solutions to global challenges, acquaint the world with the potentials of Nigerian youths and increase the country’s competitiveness.
Ojo appealed to the federal and state governments to increase funding for research and development.
He stressed that local solutions and innovations needed to be applied to challenges in all sectors.
“Doing that will enhance scientific advancement, innovation, product development, poverty reduction and socio-economic growth.’’