The era of technological domination is doing lots of great things, but one thing we didn’t see coming was this. A bloodless alternative for the testing of malaria. This means that the testing of Malaria can be done without the use of a needle, and for that, we have Matibabu’s Co-founder, Brian Gitta, to thank.

“Malaria is the leading cause of death in Uganda, but it took four blood tests to diagnose Mr Gitta with the disease,” Shafik Sekitto, who is part of the Matibabu team, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

Matibabu is a non-invasive diagnostic kit used to detect malaria.

“Gitta brought up the idea: ‘Why can’t we find a new way of using the skills we have found in computer science, or diagnosing a disease without having to prick somebody?” Mr Sekitto said. Gitta and his colleagues at Makerere University in Kampala, where they studied, became consumed with the problem and inspiration, when it struck, came not from the academic world, but from the app store.

Shafik Sekkito recalled that the music identification app, Shazam had just been launched and it detected the song you were listening to after putting the speaker of a smart phone in close hearing of just a few seconds of the song. They thought: ‘can we not do something like that for malaria?’

The invented device Matibabu can detect any changes to colour, shape and concentration of red blood cells, all key malaria indicators. The result is available within one minute, and can be sent directly to a smartphone. Because it makes diagnosis so easy, and so fast, it has the potential to save lives.

Gitta won more than $33,000 as the first-place winner at a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, where Africa Prize judges and a live audience voted for the most promising engineering innovation. Three runners-up won more than $13,000 each.

“We are incredibly honored to win the Africa Prize—it’s such a big achievement for us, they quipped. “It means that we can better manage production in order to scale clinical trials and prove ourselves to regulators,” Gitta added.

So far, trials show that Matibabu has around 80% accuracy in accurately diagnosing malaria. But Gitta, Sekitto and their team have been refining the technology which underpins it, and are confident that new clinical trials will demonstrate 90%-plus accuracy—on par with microscopic examinations, the current gold standard when it comes to malaria testing.

“We are very proud of this year’s winner. It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development—in this case by improving healthcare. Matibabu is simply a game changer,” said judge Rebecca Enonchong.

The Matibabu team plans to use the prize money to fund the next round of clinical trials, which will involve tests on 380 patients; and to help with the difficult process of obtaining regulatory approval for the product. Although the business plan is still being finessed, Gitta said that the device will likely sell for around $100 per unit when it is ready for market.




Photo credit: Royal Academy of Engineering/Twitter

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