Of the 216 million malaria cases worldwide in 2016, 445 000 were fatal. 90% of these cases were in Africa. This in mind, detecting the disease early is crucial to increase chances of survival. And one African inventor is at the forefront of this challenge.
Meaning ‘treatment‘ in Swahili, Matibabu is the first device of its kind capable of diagnosing malaria without drawing any blood. Invented by Mr. Brian Gitta, a 24 year old innovator from Uganda, alongside his team, the device received international recognition after winning the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize in June 2018.
How Does it Work?
Matibabu uses magnetism and light to diagnose the disease. Unlike regular tests that work by detecting molecules produced by the malaria parasite, Matibabu works by shining a beam of light onto a person’s finger to detect changes in red blood cells that could result from malaria infection. These results are then sent to a cell phone within two minutes.
How Revolutionary is Matibabu?
As the device doesn’t require a blood sample, no expertise is needed to operate it, unlike with conventional blood tests requiring trained medical staff. This means that with Matibabu, anyone could test for the disease by themselves at home.
Matibabu is also reusable unlike conventional blood tests for malaria infection. This makes it both potentially more environmentally-friendly and cost-effective than these tests too.
Producing its results in under two minutes, it’s also many times faster than more traditional blood tests that often take 30 minutes or more to produce results. And of course, as no blood is drawn, it’s a painless method for screening and testing for malaria infection- a huge gain for children.
Currently, the accuracy of this device stands at around 80%. This unfortunately means that around 20% of cases go undetected, something that could be a huge problem in malaria endemic zones where 20% translates to a large proportion of the population. This in mind, Mr. Gitta and colleagues are working to increase Matibabu’s accuracy to exceed 90%, putting it on par with conventional blood tests.
Matibabu is a device that can diagnose malaria infection without drawing blood in under two minutes. Although its accuracy must be increased before it can properly compete with conventional tests, it has the potential to revolutionise the way the disease is handled and diagnosed.
Image originally by James Oatway for Proof Africa/ Royal Academy for Engineering