Brian Gitta, a 24-year-old software engineer from Uganda, and a team of like-minded computer scientists have recently taken home the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, along with $33,000 in prize money, for inventing a revolutionary bloodless malaria test.
The melon-sized device is non-invasive, easy to use, low cost, it doesn’t require any specialist expertise, and it could seriously save lives.
“We are incredibly honored to win the Africa Prize – it’s such a big achievement for us, because it means that we can better manage production in order to scale clinical trials and prove ourselves to regulators,” Gitta said in a statement. “The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities – which is what we need most at the moment.”
The device is called “Matibabu” which means “medical center” in Swahili. It works by beaming a red laser onto the user’s fingers to pick up on any changes in the shape, color, and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria. Results are produced within a minute and can be immediately sent to a smartphone linked to the device.
This means the device is especially useful for Africa’s rural areas, where malaria most often takes root, as it doesn’t require blood to be sent away to laboratories. Currently, it can detect malaria with an accuracy rate of 80 percent, but they’re working hard to fine-tune the device. It’s currently undergoing tests at the national hospital in Uganda and the team is in discussions with wholesale suppliers to see how they can up-scale production of the device.
Like many people living in Sub-Saharan Africa, Brian and his team have all suffered from malaria on several occasions. After falling sick with the disease and missing their college lectures, the team became driven to create a viable, non-invasive malaria test.
Malaria is caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through female Anopheles mosquitoes. Over 445,000 people died of malaria in 2016, 91 percent of these were from Sub-Saharan African. Despite this frightening death rate, malaria is perfectly preventable and curable.
Nevertheless, treatment and prevention can be expensive or inaccessible, which is why inventions such as Brian’s are so important.
“It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development – in this case by improving health care,” added Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation judge.
“Matibabu is simply a game changer.”
With a bit more hard work, malaria could be eradicated within our lifetime, according to Bill Gates. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been putting huge amounts of money and energy into malaria treatment and prevention. You can check out just one of their many anti-malaria projects right here.