FlexiGyn, the nifty, easy-to-use gynaecological device that allows gynaecologists to diagnose and treat uterine-related challenges without using general anaesthesia, has been selected as one of the top four African inventions in line for the 2023 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

Developed by University of Cape Town (UCT) PhD student Edmund Wessels, FlexiGyn is a gamechanger for thousands of women and adolescent girls living in remote communities in South Africa who struggle to access the gynaecological care they need. The device is well-suited for use in a doctor’s office, as well as in clinics in under-resourced communities that lack proper medical infrastructure.

The nuts and bolts

FlexiGyn was co-invented with Professor Sudesh Sivarasu, the director of UCT’s Biomedical Engineering Research Centre and the head of UCT’s MedTech. It’s a portable device fitted with a built-in camera attached to a small diameter flexible scope. The device has been designed to provide user-controlled bending in multiple directions and contains a display screen that provides the clinician with the best view of the uterus, without causing the patient pain or discomfort. And thanks to its accurate mini scope navigation tool, clinicians can access the uterus easily to pinpoint diagnoses.

Wessels described FlexiGyn as a revolutionary device that connects gynaecologists and obstetricians with general practitioners to create a network of changemakers who will expand access to healthcare and provide essential screenings in remote areas.

He said the idea to develop the invention came after the late Dr Carol Thomas, a UCT specialist gynaecologist, alerted the MedTech team to an unmet clinical need that involved medical equipment. What followed, he added, was FlexiGyn, and by adopting use of the innovation, clinics can also eliminate old, outdated equipment.

Largest engineering innovation awards

In December, Wessels’ invention was nominated for the Royal Academy’s 2023 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. He was one of 15 up-and-coming African entrepreneurs to be shortlisted for this prestigious prize. Four inventors, including Wessels and others from Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, have since been selected to compete for the grand prize. The winner will receive £25 000 (approximately R585 000), while the three finalists will receive £10 000 (approximately R234 000) each.

Wessels said he is honoured and thrilled that he’s been recognised among some of the continent’s top innovators who are dedicated to solving African challenges.

“I can’t wait to showcase our technology at the finals and see what new opportunities this will bring.”

“Being part of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation has already been an incredible experience, being selected as one of the four finalists has just propelled that feeling to a new level. I can’t wait to showcase our technology at the finals and see what new opportunities this will bring,” Wessels said.

The Africa Prize was established in 2014 and remains the largest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. Each innovator has proven their ability to harness engineering to address some of the common problems Africans face.

The winner will be announced in Accra, Ghana, on 6 July.