Malaria is still one of the biggest health problems in Africa, accounting for some 90 percent of cases and deaths. The costs of health services to diagnose it, drugs to treat it, and its effect on productivity continue to be the bane of economic progress on the continent. Over the years, people have devised ways to bring a life-saving solution to the disease.
There are now malaria tests that can give results with speed. But none of those rapid tests can be done without pricking the body for blood. That is where Sekitto’s system comes in.
Sekitto, an engineer from Uganda, developed the winning innovation, Matibabu, to make malaria diagnosis easier. Africa bears the brunt of the global malaria burden, accounting for some 90 per cent of cases and deaths .
He worked on the device with six friends from Makerere University in Uganda. They built a prototype by combining their skills in research, engineering, computer science and business — and backed by advisors with expertise in parasitology and physics.
Matibabu uses light and magnetism to differentiate between the blood of an infected and a healthy person. Unlike ‘gold standard’ tests that work by detecting molecules produced by the malaria parasite, it deploys polarised light to detect hemozoin crystals, which are by-products excreted by the parasite.
It does this in less than two minutes— four times the speed of the fastest among current tests on the market, according to Sekitto. The results are sent from the device, which clips onto a patient’s finger, to a mobile phone. “It’s just plug and play,” he told SciDev.Net .
How Matibabu Works
“The basic idea involves a custom-made piece of hardware which consists of a red LED and a light sensor. A finger is inserted into the device to diagnose and the results are viewed via a smartphone,” Kavuma told MakeTechX at the early stages of the innovation.
In other words, to have this test done, you place your finger in the device, which then uses light and magnetism to analyse your blood composition for the significant signs of malaria infection.
What sets Matibabu apart from the rest of the conventional blood tests is that one can get results faster, 2 minutes compared to 30 minutes or more.
It also doesn’t require a blood sample, so a patient could potentially test for the disease on their own, at home.
The team’s challenge now is to convince people who are still used to having their blood taken for malaria tests to embrace the innovation.
Health professionals who are still using standard tests that work by detecting molecules produced by the malaria parasite must also be convinced about Matibabu.
Currently made up of the following members: Brian Gitta (CEO), Joshua Businge (CFO), Josiah Kavuma (CTO) and Simon Lubambo (engineer), as well as business analyst Shafik Sekitto, the team is aiming to commercialise the kit next year.
“We’re heading for clinical trials in the next few months, where we’ll validate our device and be able to obtain the right medical certificates and licences for commercialization,” Sekitto was quoted by Quartz Africa.