Blood transfusion remains a vital but limited asset in healthcare delivery, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where anaemia, linked majorly to malaria and pregnancy-related complications, is common. For many years, until the historic invention of Dr Otuanovwe Ovadje, there had been a dire need for a safe, affordable and cost-effective alternative to allogenic or homologous blood transfusion (the transfusion of blood from a compatible donor into a patient) in Sub-Saharan Africa. This was because of the increasing incidence of elective and emergency surgeries, shortages arising from a fall in blood bank supply, inadequate transfusion facilities and the lack of effective national blood transfusion services.
Incidentally, recent advancement in medicine had seen the emergence of sophisticated blood auto-transfusion devices, which salvage blood from a patient during and after surgery, by filtering the blood for reinfusion back into the patient. Unfortunately, however, these sophisticated equipment have certain peculiarities which make them unattractive to the healthcare systems of developing countries. Aside from the prohibitive cost of purchasing and maintaining them, their operations require the involvement of highly skilled personnel, as well as stable supply of electricity.
Then came the Emergency Auto Transfusion System (EAT-SET) by Nigerian medical doctor and brigadier general, Ovadje, and the hassles associated with blood transfusion in the sub-Saharan region became history. Ovadje’s invention is a simple and affordable device which helps to recover blood from internal bleeding organs of the body, if the process is begun within 24 hours of haemorrhage. The system is recognised as a better and improved alternative to the gauze filtration technique that used to be more common in Africa. It is also been used in other developing countries across the world saving millions of lives.
Apart from the fact that the EAT-SET device is simpler, affordable, and effective, compared to the auto transfusion techniques common in developed countries, the most important advantage of the EAT-SET is that it does not require electricity to function, considering the fact that power supply is one of the major challenges in developing nations.
The EAT-SET is made up of a transparent rigid capsule, incorporating a V–shaped micro-filter. The arrangements of its parts allow its adaptation to a manual source of low vacuum. The patient’s blood is drawn into a special collection container and later reinfused into the patient by gravity, after it has undergone a filtration process. The EAT-SET system takes about two minutes to process about 500 ml of blood.
Beginnings of breakthrough
General Ovadje started the EAT-SET project with limited funds (about $120) while he was working at the military hospital Ikoyi, Lagos. He was able to attract the interest and attention of many funding partners and collaborators due to the ingenuity and reliability of the technique. His research drew the attention of the Nigerian military government who provided equipment and facilities for his research. It also attracted financial support from United Nation Development Program (UNDP) and World Health Organisation (WHO), which also helped in executing the project. Many other privately owned companies offered financial support for the research and also for the establishment of the EAT-SET company.
The effectiveness of the EAT-SET was first demonstrated by Ovadje at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and Ayinke Hospital (LASUTH) to the World Intellectual Property Organisation, which sent some delegates from Geneva to witness the use of the device in Nigerian hospitals. This achievement was presented at the world congress of the International Committee of Military Medicine (ICMM) in Augsburg, Germany, in June 1994, and published in the journal of the ICMM in 1995.
Background and education
Born 20 December, 1954, in Evwreni, Ugheli, Delta State, Nigeria, Ovadje received his primary education at Peter & Paul Primary School, Ughelli from 1960 to 1966, and his secondary education from St. Ambrose College, Usiefrun, Ughelli from 1968 to 1972. Thereafter, he proceeded to study Medicine and Surgery at University of Benin from 1976 to 1981. Ovadje did his national youth service in with the Nigerian military. After that, he entered the Young Officers Medical Course, at the Nigerian Army Medical School in 1983. He was then drafted to the Staff College Junior Division in 1985. During his active service, Ovadje served as house registrar (from 1988 to 1994) and medical consultant (from 1994 to 1996) before becoming chief medical consultant in 1998.
In the course of his highly distinguished military career, Ovadje was the head of Nigeria’s Integrated Community Case Management (ICMM) Delegation in 1994, 1996, 1998, 2004, and 2005. He was an exhibitor at the following: the Armed Forces Medical Conference, 1989; ICMM Congress, Augsburg Germany, 1994; ICMM Congress in Beijing, China (1996); ICMM Congress Vienna, Austria, 1998; 26th International Exhibition, Promex’ Palexpo, Geneva, 1998; WHO Exhibition, All African Anaesthelogy Congress Sheraton Hotel, Harare, June 1997. He was also a chief delegate to the World Congress Military on Medicine at different times, giving lectures in the United States of America, Germany, China, Zimbabwe, Austria, and Lesotho in South Africa.
Awards and recognitions
Ovadje’s invention and social contributions to humanity have earned him several awards and recognitions from renowned national and international bodies. In Addis Ababa Ethiopia, 1995, he was jointly declared the best scientist in Africa by Organisation of African Unity, OAU (now African Union, AU) and the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) which awarded him a gold medal for his invention. He equally received the Chief of Army Staff Award (1992 and 1995). He received Presidential Commendation from General Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, General Abdussalam Abubakar, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo: in 1992, 1995, 1998 and 2000 respectively. He also received the National Council of Health Commendation in 1996.
Ovadje was awarded with the Promex Silver Medal award, 1998, in Geneva, Switzerland. He was first African winner of WHO SASAKAWA award, in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2000. Other awards include World Bank Institute award, in February 2000; ARCO Gold Medal, Blood Transfusion Society of England award, London, UK; P. Morgan Chase Health award at the Tech Museum awards for Technology Benefiting Humanity, California, USA, in November 2002; Army Council Medal, Nigerian Army Abuja, Nigeria; 100 distinguished Nigerians Centenary Awards by ex-president Goodluck Jonathan; Face of Hope award, New Jersey, USA; Forces Services Star, 1986; Mentorious Service Star, 1992; Officer of the Federal Republic, 1998. He was also chosen on merit as one of the celebrated Nigerians in area of knowledge, research, and invention by Afrikanwatch.
Not only is Ovadje known for his numerous awards, but he is also renowned in many national and international professional associations. He is Fellow, West African College of Surgeons; life member of the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS); member, Association of Military Surgeons of the Federal Republic of Austria; member of the Technical Working Committee of the International Congress of Military Medicine. He is also a Member of Order of the Niger, MON; and Member of the Order of the Federal Republic of Austria, OFR.
Although retired from the Nigerian Army, Ovadje maintains ties and communication with medical research works across the globe. He is into a new field of Medicine that has to do with anti-aging and disease reversal. He promotes herbal screening and is one of those who believe that the cure for obstinate diseases will come from tropical Africa.
The inventor and veteran military doctor is a highly sought-after international public speaker and has been invited to speak at different organisations, including Drexel University in Philadelphia, where he conducted a study on the use of medical ozone in the management of HIV.