At the annual SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards, Dr Daemon McClunan, inventor of the OptiShunt, won the 2019 Disability Empowerment Award. MARISKA MORRIS reports
Each year, the SAB Foundation identifies small businesses or entrepreneurs who are empowering their communities and people with disabilities through their unique innovations. These exceptional businesses are awarded prize money and gain access to expert business consultants for a year to support their growth.
After a vigorous vetting process, the 2019 Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Award winners were announced in October at an event at the Polo Room at Inanda Club, Sandton.
Dr Daemon McClunan, CEO at LIQID Medical, was awarded joint first place in the Disability Empowerment category for his invention, The OptiShunt. This implantable device offers the world’s first definitive treatment for glaucoma, a disease that is the leading cause of disability due to irreversible blindness globally. McClunan shared his win with Specialised Seating for Disabled Children.
The OptiShunt drains excessive fluid from the eyes of a glaucoma patient using a naturally occurring fluid reservoir behind the eye ball to equalise the pressure between the eye and the optic nerve.
“I heard about the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards through a friend and previous winner Will Mapham,” Dr McClunan explained. Mapham won the SAB Foundation Social Innovation Award in 2013 for his Vula app, which allows primary healthcare workers in rural areas to make quick and simple referrals to on-call specialists.
“It was clear that the SAB Foundation was perfectly aligned with our mission to make a big impact in the fight against the leading cause of disability in South Africa: visual loss and blindness,” said Dr McClunan. “Winning the award is a major achievement that has made us feel vindicated in all the hard work we’ve put into The OptiShunt project.
“It has emboldened us in our belief that we are on the right track in our fight against blindness. It has also humbled us to learn about all the other inspiring innovators fighting to improve the lives of people facing various disabilities across South Africa.”
The R1,3 million in prize money will finance the first-in-man clinical trial of The OptiShunt at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town later this year. It will also enable the company to employ its first full-time employee and prepare the OptiShunt for its international disclosure at the World Ophthalmology Congress in June 2020.
Second place was awarded to Lucy Slaviero and Little Eden CEO Xelda Rohrbeck, who developed the ShowerBath. This raised, heated concrete bath-shower allows caregivers at Little Eden to bath residents with severe disabilities comfortably. Traditional bathtubs are strenuous on the backs of caregivers.
The SAB Foundation’s vision of improving the lives of people with disabilities resonated with their mission, said Rohrbeck: “The Disability Empowerment Award is aimed at promoting social innovations that improve quality of life for people with disabilities through assistive devices, training or employment opportunities.
“This resonated with the reason why the ShowerBath was invented. It enables the easy bathing of individuals with profound intellectual and physical disabilities who are unable to bath themselves and depend on caregivers, while easing back strain put on the caregiver.”
Winning second place and R900 000 in prize money will make it possible for Little Eden to roll out the initiative into all their homes and then throughout South Africa at organisations, care facilities, hospitals and institutions caring for people who are unable to bath themselves.
“The prize money will enable Little Eden to enhance the prototype and develop a business plan to roll out the product. The potential revenue earnings from the sale of the Little Eden ShowerBath would contribute towards Little Eden’s sustainability to reduce the organisation’s reliance on donor funding,” Rohrbeck said.
A planned total of 14 ShowerBaths – seven per home – will be rolled out at Little Eden initially. Commenting on the importance of these baths, Rohrbeck said: “Lucy Slaviero designed the ShowerBath when she saw how caregivers struggled with bathing, in particular the elderly with profound intellectual disabilities and limited mobility.
“Traditional baths put strain on the caregiver’s back, inhibits a hygienic bathing process and restricts movement by the caregiver. Since the prototype was implemented, it has received many positive reviews from the caregivers.
“It solves a social and health problem relating to effective personal hygiene care for the person being bathed while contributing to the wellbeing of the caregiver. In addition, it is a viable low-cost solution for Little Eden that is not based on electromechanical hoists, which are expensive and prone to breakdowns,” Rohrbeck concludes.
Since 2010, the SAB Foundation has been identifying, supporting and helping to scale social innovations that demonstrate a sustainable business model while solving a social problem. A total of R13,65 million was awarded to the 20 finalists for the 2019 Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards, with Regenize – a free recycling service with reward systems – snapping up first place in the Social Innovation category.
“To date, we have committed more than R77 million towards promoting social innovation and supported 162 businesses that solve social issues and provide solutions to people with disabilities. Over and above this, we are proud that these businesses have also created 614 jobs,” concluded Bridgit Evans, director of the SAB Foundation.