19 June 2018

Innovative device may revolutionise diagnosing malaria

Could drawing blood and running numerous tests to diagnose malaria be a thing of the past?

A team of Ugandan engineers developed a device which could diagnose malaria without needing to draw blood. The team initially started working on the invention after doctors struggled to accurately diagnose malaria in one of the team members – the team leader, software engineer Brian Gitta.

The team decided that because blood tests can be unreliable and malaria being the leading cause of death in Uganda, they needed to find another way of diagnosing the curable disease.

One of the team members, Shafik Sekitto, an engineer explained that having malaria – also known as plasmodium infection – means you have plasmodium parasites living in your blood.

Test results from the device come through to a mobile phone linked to the device and are available after a minute.

Sekitto told the BBC that parasites, like any other living organism, eat and defecate. The parasite's faeces, however, are magnetic and the device uses magnets and lights to detect if there are faeces originating from this parasite in the blood.

In a statement from the Royal Academy of Engineering, Gitta explained that the light used in the device is red and when shone on to the user's finger, detects changes in the shape, colour and concentration of the red blood cells affected by malaria.

The device is officially called Matibabu, which is Swahili for treatment, and the team won the Royal Academy of Engineering's Africa prize for Engineering Invention.