Wednesday November 13, 2019

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

0
//
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

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)

Next Story

Scientists: Nations Need Stronger Pledges to Curb Climate Change

Governments are moving in the right direction, but nowhere near enough, so hopefully they will be willing to take on much stronger commitments

0
Scientists, Nations, Climate Change
A woman wearing a mask walks past buildings on a polluted day in Handan, Hebei province, China, Jan. 12, 2019. China is reportedly the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. VOA

The vast majority of national commitments in the 2015 Paris Agreement are inadequate to prevent the worst effects of global warming, scientists said on Tuesday, naming the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitting countries as among those that must ratchet up their efforts.

“Governments are moving in the right direction, but nowhere near enough, so hopefully they will be willing to take on much stronger commitments” in next month’s United Nation’s climate summit in Spain, said Robert Watson, lead author of the report by the nonprofit Universal Ecological Fund.

The report ranked nearly 75%, or 136, of the pledges as insufficient, including ones by major carbon emitters China, the United States, and India. A dozen, by countries including Australia, Japan and Brazil, were judged only partially sufficient.

Countries at next month’s summit in Madrid will hash out some details of the international pact to curb warming. Chile withdrew as host following weeks of riots protesting inequality.

Scientists, Nations, Climate Change
A protestor holds a placard in front of the India Gate during a protest demanding government to take immediate steps to control air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 5, 2019. VOA

Of the 184 pledges countries made under the climate agreement, only 36 are ambitious enough to help reach the agreement’s goal of keeping global warming less than 1.5 Celsius (2.7 F) above pre-industrial levels, the report said.

Most of those 36 are by countries in the European Union.

Watson, a former chair of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the report could be read two ways: “You can read ‘My God it’s hopeless’, or ‘My God this is a wake up call.'”

Watson estimated that even if all nations meet their existing pledges, the world would be headed for temperature rise of between 3 and 3.5 degrees Celsius, which could lead to more extreme weather, rising sea levels and the loss of plant and animal species.

Also Read- New WhatsApp Feature Lets Users Decide to Join a Group or Not: Tech Report

The report rated the European Union’s 28 member states as having sufficient pledges because they aim to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by at least 40% below the 1990 level by 2030.

It ranked the United States as insufficient because President Donald Trump reversed former President Barack Obama’s climate policies and yanked Washington out of the pact. The administration, which argues that Paris Agreement would cost U.S. taxpayers too much money, filed official paperwork on Monday to withdraw.

China, the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases, and India, also came in as insufficient because their pledges focus on carbon intensity targets, which lower emissions per unit of gross domestic product, or GDP. Because those economies are growing and coal produces much of their electricity, total emissions have risen sharply even though carbon intensity levels in China and India have fallen. (VOA)