Test That Detects Malaria With Light Received the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Running a fever and waiting for his diagnosis, Brian Gitta thought of – literally speaking – a bright idea. He developed a malaria test that only needed light instead of blood samples or laboratory technicians.

Thankfully, Brian Gitta is a 25-year-old computer scientist from Uganda. His efforts in creating a noninvasive malaria test kit won him a prize: the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, awarded by the Royal Academy of Engineering in Britain. The award came with $32,940.

Malaria is an illness that made the most victims in Africa: 80% of the cases and deaths from malaria are in Africa. The World Malaria Report which was released at the end of last year shows that the cases rose from 211 million (2015) to 216 million (2016), but with 1,000 fewer deaths than in 2015 (445,000.) The disease is spread by mosquito bites, which are difficult to contain because they grow resistant to drugs and insecticides.

The Science Behind the New Malaria Kit – Matibabu

The kit shines a red beam of light on the patient’s finder to see the changes of color, shape and the concentrations of red blood cells. The red blood cells are affected by malaria. In just a minute, the result appears on a mobile phone or a computer that is linked to the device.

The name of the device is Matibabu, which means “treatment” in Swahili. A firm based in Portugal will produce the components for the device. The judge at the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, Rebecca Enonchong, stated that Brian Gitta’s device is a “perfect example of how engineering can unlock development, in this case by improving health care,” adding that:

“Matibabu is simply a game changer.”

Gitta and his five colleagues trained in engineering or computer science created a device that can be easily used by anyone and is perfect to be used in rural areas, where sending blood samples to a distant lab takes too much time.

According to the WHO, there are over 200 diagnostic test devices for malaria on the market.

The last prototype of Matibabu, which reached number five, has an accuracy rate of 80%. It is still a work in progress, as the team tries to improve the rate to over 90% accuracy. After that, Matibabu will have to be used in clinical trials according to the safety and ethics regulations in Uganda.

Rex Austin

Rex Austinwas born and raised in Thunder Bay Ontario on the shores of Lake Superior. Apart from running his own podcast (Ice Fishing And Other “Cool” Things), he spends his time canoeing and backpacking in Northern Ontario.. As a journalist Rex has published stories for Global News (Thunder Bay) we well as Buzz Feed and Joystiq. As a contributor to Great Lakes Ledger, Rex most covers science and health stories. Contact Rexhere