CURING BY DETECTION
By Eva Van Den Berg
The WHO estimates that there were 219 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2017, leading to 435,000 deaths. Of this total, 80% occurred in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and in India, but just five of these countries accounted for nearly half of all recorded cases: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, India and Uganda. It is the last country in this list that is home to Brian Gitta, a 26-year-old entrepreneur specialising in information technology who knows only too well what it is like to suffer from this disease, caused by parasites of the genus Plasmodium transmitted through being bitten by mosquitoes of various species of the genus Anopheles. “I really couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve had malaria since I was little”, says Gitta. He is also very much aware of the problems affecting fast diagnosis systems for the disease, having had to take on one occasion four different tests to find out whether or not he was infected. “Existing tests require a blood sample and a qualified analyst, who is not always available in the developing world”, he explains.
This situation led him to conceive an affordable system to diagnose malaria as quickly as possible, which won him one of the five Rolex Awards for Enterprise in 2019, prizes that the Swiss watch manufacturer has been conferring for over 40 years to individuals whose innovative projects increase our knowledge of our world and improve the quality of life on the planet. It is a portable electronic device that gives a reliable reading in a few minutes without the need to draw blood, developed by this young Ugandan’s own team at his company Matibatu, which means “treatment” in Swahili. Now, after five generations of prototypes, they have perfected the Matiscope, in which patients place a finger. Through the action of light and magnets the device calibrates changes in the colour, shape and concentration of the red blood globules, thus detecting whether or not Plasmodium is present in the bloodstream. Gitta aims to “improve the accuracy of the diagnosis, especially during the early phases of the disease, and to convince both doctors and patients that blood analyses are no longer necessary”. If it passes the clinical trials, he intends to distribute the Matiscope to hospitals all over Uganda and Kenya, as the first step in a process of major expansion.
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- National Geographic website