Saturday July 21, 2018

Brian Gitta: A Malaria Test That Would Not Need Blood Samples

The new malaria test kit works by shining a red beam of light onto a finger

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A health service worker takes a blood sample for a malaria test in Dajabon, Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti, Oct. 6, 2009. A test that doesn't require a needle or blood has won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation
A health service worker takes a blood sample for a malaria test in Dajabon, Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti, Oct. 6, 2009. A test that doesn't require a needle or blood has won the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, VOA
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Languishing with fever and frustrated by delays in diagnosing his illness, Brian Gitta came up with a bright idea: a malaria test that would not need blood samples or specialized laboratory technicians.

That inspiration has won the 25-year-old Ugandan computer scientist a prestigious engineering prize for a noninvasive malaria test kit that he hopes will be widely used across Africa.

For developing the reusable test kit known as Matibabu, Gitta this month was awarded the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. The award by the Royal Academy of Engineering in Britain comes with $32,940.

Malaria is the biggest killer in Africa, and the sub-Saharan region accounts for about 80 percent of the world’s malaria cases and deaths. Cases rose to 216 million in 2016, up from 211 million cases in 2015, according to the latest World Malaria Report, released late last year. Malaria deaths fell by 1,000, to 445,000.

The mosquito-borne disease is a challenge to prevent, with increasing resistance reported to both drugs and insecticides.

No needles

The new malaria test kit works by shining a red beam of light onto a finger to detect changes in the shape, color and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria. The results are sent within a minute to a computer or mobile phone linked to the device.

A Portugal-based firm has been contracted to produce the components for Matibabu, the Swahili word for “treatment.”

“It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development, in this case by improving health care,” Rebecca Enonchong, Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation judge, said in a statement. “Matibabu is simply a game changer.”

A woman carrying a baby holds a treated mosquito net during a malaria prevention action at Ajah in Eti Osa East district of Lagos, Nigeria, April 21, 2016.
A woman carrying a baby holds a treated mosquito net during a malaria prevention action at Ajah in Eti Osa East district of Lagos, Nigeria, April 21, 2016. VOA

Gitta and five colleagues, all trained in computer science or engineering, developed an affordable, bloodless test that does not need a specialist to operate. The new test will be suitable for use in Africa’s rural areas, where most cases of malaria occur, because it will not depend on sending blood samples to a distant laboratory.

Others are also working to fill the need for quicker, easier malaria tests. There are more than 200 rapid diagnostic test products for malaria on the market, according to the WHO.

80 percent accurate now

The fifth-generation prototype of Matibabu, with an accuracy rate of 80 percent, is still a work in process. Gitta and his group aim to refine the device until it achieves an accuracy rate exceeding 90 percent.

Matibabu has yet to be formally subjected to all the necessary clinical trials under Ugandan safety and ethics regulations.

“It excites me as a clinician,” said Medard Bitekyerezo, a Ugandan physician who chairs the National Drug Authority. “I think the National Drug Authority will approve it.”

The government should invest in the project so that its developers don’t struggle financially, he added. The unit cost of the latest prototype is about $100.

Despite the optimism, Gitta has found a hurdle he didn’t anticipate: Some patients are skeptical of unfamiliar technology.

“The doctors will tell you that some people will not leave the hospital until their children have been pricked, and until they have been given anti-malaria drugs and painkillers, even if the kid is not sick,” he said.

Also read: From Radio Signals A Pill Could Tell About Gut Health And Help Doctors

“We think we are developing for hospitals first, so that people can first get attached to the brand, and gain the trust of patients over time.” (VOA)

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FDA Approves Drug to Stop Some Malaria Relapses

Worldwide, malaria infects more than 200 million people a year and kills about half a million, most of them children in Africa

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FILE - The GlaxoSmithKline offices in London. On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved GlaxoSmithKline’s Krintafel, a simpler, one-dose treatment, to prevent relapses of a type of malaria. (VOA)

U.S. regulators Friday approved a simpler, one-dose treatment to prevent relapses of malaria.

Standard treatment now takes two weeks and studies show many patients don’t finish taking every dose.

Malaria is caused by parasites that are spread to people through mosquito bites. Anti-malarial drugs can cure the initial infection, but parasites can get into the liver, hide in a dormant form and cause recurrences months or years later. A second drug is used to stop relapses.

The new drug, GlaxoSmithKline’s Krintafel, only targets the kind of malaria that mainly occurs in South America and Southeast Asia. Most malaria cases and deaths are in Africa, and they involve another species.

In testing, one dose of Krintafel worked about the same as two weeks of the standard treatment, preventing relapses in about three-quarters of patients in six months, the company said.

Malaria is caused by parasites that are spread to people through mosquito bites.
Malaria is caused by parasites that are spread to people through mosquito bites. (VOA)

The Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for patients 16 and older, according to GlaxoSmithKline. The company said it’s the first new treatment in six decades for preventing relapses.

GlaxoSmithKline plans to apply soon for approval in Brazil, then other countries where the malaria type is common. It says it will sell the pills at low cost in poor countries.

Millions infected worldwide

Worldwide, malaria infects more than 200 million people a year and kills about half a million, most of them children in Africa. It causes fever, headache, chills and other flulike symptoms. The malaria type Krintafel targets causes about 8.5 million infections annually.

Also Read: Trial Wipes out More Than 80 per cent of Disease-Spreading Mosquitoes

The British drugmaker, working with the World Health Organization, is also developing what could be the world’s first malaria vaccine, but early testing indicates it’s not very effective. Prevention now focuses on using insecticides and bed nets. (VOA)