Blood-free malaria detection device wins 2018 Africa innovation prize

18 Jun 2018, 12:00 am
Financial Nigeria


Matibabu is currently undergoing testing with a national hospital in Uganda.

Matibabu, Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize award, Brian Gitta

‘Matibabu’, a device which test for malaria without drawing blood, developed by a 24-year old Ugandan software engineer, Brian Gitta, has won the prestigious 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

Brian Gitta is the first Ugandan software engineer, and the youngest winner of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize award.

‘Matibabu’, which means ‘medical centre’ in Swahili, was developed by Gitta and his team after missing lectures several times due to malaria.

Matibabu is a low-cost, reusable device that clips onto a patient’s finger and require no specialist expertise to operate, according to the release by the Academy.

A red beam of light shone through the finger of the user detects changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria. And within one minute, the results are available on a mobile phone that is linked to the device.

Gitta received his £25,000 first prize at the award ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya on 13 June, 2018.

Other runners-up, who each won £10,000, are: Collins Saguru from Zimbabwe for AltMet, a low-cost, environmental friendly method for recovering precious metals from car parts; Ifediora Ugochukwu from Nigeria for iMeter, an intelligent metering system that gives Nigerian users transparency and control over their electricity supply; and Michael Asante-Africa from Ghana for Science Set, a mini science lab that contains specially developed materials for experiments.

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, launched in 2014 by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, encourages talented Sub-Saharan African
(SSA) engineers, from all disciplines, to develop innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new, appropriate way.

According to the statement, Matibabu is currently undergoing testing with a national hospital in Uganda. The device is aimed at individuals, health centres and diagnostic suppliers. The team also aims to set up Matibabu on the streets to allow people to do a single test at a time.

Through their participation in the Africa Prize, the Matibabu team have been approached by international researchers offering support and are currently writing up their ground-breaking findings into an academic paper, to be published within the next few months, the statement further explained.

“We are very proud of this year’s winner. It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development – in this case by improving healthcare,” said Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize judge. “Matibabu is simply a game changer.”

Gitta said, “We are incredibly honoured 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. The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities – which is what we need most at the moment.”

The sixteen shortlisted Africa Prize entrants, from seven countries in SSA, received six months training and mentoring during which they learned to develop business plans and market their innovations and coaching on communicating effectively, focusing on customers and approaching investors with confidence.

The other 12 candidates on the 2018 Africa Prize shortlist are: Alvin Kabwama from Uganda with UriSAF Maternal and Sexual Reproductive Health Care Kit, which tests urine quickly, accurately and affordably; Arthur Woniala from Uganda with Khainza Energy Gas, a cheap biogas made from manure and safe for household use; Brian Mwiti Mwenda from Kenya with The Sixth Sense, a handheld echolocation device with ultrasonic sensors that alert visually impaired users to objects nearby; Daniel Taylor from Ghana with HWESOMAME, a low-cost smart sensor that accurately detects soil conditions and notifies farmers via text or phone call; Emeka Nwachinemere from Nigeria with Kitovu, an online platform that helps farmers in remote locations to increase crop yields and sell their produce; Esther Gacicio from Kenya with eLearning Solutions, an interactive online programme that hosts courses for individuals or serves as a tool for training institutions; Lawrence Okettayot from Uganda with Sparky Dryer, a low-tech dehydrator that dries fruit and vegetables to extend their shelf life and reduce food wastage; Monicah Mumbi Wambugu from Kenya with Loanbee, a mobile phone application that calculates the user’s credit scores and grants micro-loans; Nges Njungle from Cameroon with Muzikol, an online music marketing and social media app designed to meet all the career needs of musicians; Nnaemeka Chidiebere Ikegwuono from Nigeria with ColdHubs, solar-powered walk-in cold rooms that extend the life of perishable food tenfold; Peter Kariuki from Rwanda with SafeMotos, an app that connects commuters to the safest motorcycle drivers in Kigali, Rwanda; and Shalton Mphodisa Mothwa from South Africa with AEON Power Bag, which allows users to charge their phones on the go by converting radio waves and solar energy into power.