PRD Logical Solutions, winner of the Innovation Concepts Award in the Emerging Enterprise category
Dignity for wheelchair-bound people when it is needed most
Approximately 75 million people around the world need a wheelchair on a daily basis, representing about 1% of the world’s population, according to the World Health Organization. Yet even in the high-tech 21st century, some of the most basic needs of wheelchair-bound people have been overlooked, such as being able to go to the toilet without assistance.
Portia Mavhungu, South African social entrepreneur and inventor, is changing that. Her invention, the Para Tube, is a wheelchair device “that helps people maintain dignity when they need it most”.
The Para Tube is a retrofitted wheelchair seat with a hidden toilet beneath it that the occupant of the chair can operate himself or herself without having to be lifted off or out of the seat.
The device includes a biodegradable bag containing a sachet with powder that soaks up the contents, turning into a gel that deodorises the bag, which is sealed until it can be disposed of.
This is a significant improvement on the usual built-in toilet facilities for wheelchair-bound people – typically a commode that also fits under a wheelchair seat but usually requires at least some assistance from a third party.
The Para Tube was inspired by Portia’s own experience of temporary disability a decade ago.
“In 2011, I fell from a three-storey building and broke my pelvis and arm,” says Portia, who vividly remembers the indignity of having to ask her mother or grandmother to lift her out of the wheelchair when she needed to use the toilet.
“I went into a deep depression, even though my disability was temporary. It got me thinking about what people experience when they have a permanent disability.”
Portia came up with the idea for the Para Tube, and then started looking for funding to develop it. She sent an email to all the Cabinet Ministers in government at the time, saying that she was a black African woman wanting to make a contribution to the quality of life of people with disabilities. “I said that if they couldn’t help, I could always go to America,” she recalls.
“Within 24 hours, I received a reply from the Minister of Science and Technology, who suggested I approach the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA).”
TIA agreed to provide R1 million in seed funding, along with coaching and mentorship and after that, one thing led to another.
As things stand today, 20 working prototypes of the Para Tube are undergoing clinical trials in South Africa and the patenting process is well in hand. The device has been granted PCT registration in China, South Africa and the United States, and the Austrian Patent Office – the largest in the world – has granted Para Tube novel status, confirming its uniqueness.
Portia and her company, PRD Logical Solutions, have since received no fewer than 24 innovation and entrepreneurship awards for the Para Tube, along with funding from the Industrial Development Corporation, a Presidential mention in 2019 and an honorary ambassadorship to the United Nations. The company is also working with Yale University in the United States on a marketing plan.
Portia is optimistic that the Para Tube could be on sale in South Africa before 2021 is out, helping to bring much-needed independence to wheelchair-bound people across the country.