Ugandan wins Africa prize for bloodless malaria test

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Africa Proof

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Matibabu shines a red beam through a patient’s finger and detects tell-tale signs of malaria

A Ugandan inventor has won a major prize for a device which tests for malaria without drawing blood.

Computer scientist Brian Gitta, 24, is the first Ugandan, and the youngest person, to win the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize.

The device, called Maitibabu, can diagnose malaria in a minute and shares its results on a linked mobile phone.

Mr Gitta was inspired to develop the device with his team after blood tests failed to diagnose his malaria.

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 Maitibabu team, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme.

“[Gitta] brought up the idea of ‘why can’t we fund a new way using the skills we have found in computer science of diagnosing a disease without having to prick somebody,” Mr Sekitto said.

Better detection

Matibabu, which means “medical centre” in Swahili, clips onto a patient’s finger and does not require a specialist to operate.

It works by shining a red beam of light through the patient’s finger, detecting changes in the colour, shape and concentration of red blood cells – all of which are affected by malaria.

The majority of global deaths caused by malaria – usually transmitted by the bite of an infected Anopheles mosquito – occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

His team hopes the device can one day be used as a way to better detect malaria across the continent.

But before that, Matibabu has to go through a number of regulators before being available in the market, Mr Sekitto told the BBC.

It is “not an easy journey because you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the device is safe for human use”, he said.

A game-changer

In the meantime, the Matibabu team are currently writing an academic paper on their findings, have been approached by international researchers offering support, and are currently performing field trials on the device.

“Matibabu is simply a game-changer,” Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation judge and Cameroonian technology entrepreneur, said in a statement.

“It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development – in this case by improving healthcare.”

The prize, which was set up in 2014, provides support, funding, mentoring and business training to the winners, the Royal Academy of Engineering said in a statement.

Mr Gitta has also been awarded £25,000 in prize money from the Royal Academy of Engineering. “The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities – which is what we need most at the moment,” Mr Gitta said in a statement.



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