A jam-packed day in Windhoek

Today we visited Namibia’s FABLab Design and Technology Centre in Windhoek, where the two co-founders, Bjorn Wiedow and Kirstin Wiedow were kind enough to give us a tour of the lab and answer all of our questions. Although originally started as a separate entity, FABLab now falls under the umbrella of Namibia’s University of Science and Technology. Operationally, it remains independent from the university, with Bjorn and Kirstin having full discretion over what projects they undertake. One of FABLab’s key focus areas is providing students with hands-on experience in the latest manufacturing, prototyping, and design technologies. As such, FABLab serves as a mini innovation hub within the university’s more traditional learning environment. Interestingly, one of FABLab’s new courses called FABacademy is an adaptation of the MIT Media Lab’s popular class How to Make Almost Anything.

A collection of HERD products at FABLab Namibia.

In the afternoon, we visited the offices of the Elimination 8 (E8) Secretariat in downtown Windhoek. Elimination 8 is a government-backed partnership of eight countries – Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe – for the joint planning and coordination of malaria elimination efforts in the region. E8 is backed by the Global Fund, the World Bank, and other global aid organizations, with a significant portion of its funding coming from the United States. I found it fascinating that 8 distinct stakeholders with different priorities could work hand-in-hand towards a goal that has disproportionate benefits in the near term. Only 4 countries – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland – are part of the target of malaria elimination by 2020.

During our meeting with E8, we asked our hosts what were the biggest threats to the success of the program. Along with insecticide resistance and drug resistance, they mentioned the potential cuts to funding by the current U.S. administration. This was a stark reminder of the global impact that decisions made at home can have in the daily lives of people around the world and of the power of unintended consequences.

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