Countless bouts of malaria and a fear of needles led Ugandan Computer Science student, Brian Gitta, and his peers to develop Matibabu, a malaria testing app that doesn’t require blood to diagnose the disease.
When Gitta contracted malaria in 2012, he had already been admitted to hospital with the disease numerous times since childhood. He envisioned a “mobile medical centre” to offer a quick, painless test to diagnose the disease without the long waiting times, common in state hospitals. In an interview with EHN, Gitta explained that many people in Uganda have had malaria. “I was two or three years old when I first contracted it,” said Gitta. Following his vision, Gitta enlisted the help of his Makerere University (MU), IT peers, Josiah Kavuma, Simon Lubambo and Joshua Businge also known as Team Code 8, to develop the solution.
Initially, Gitta and his team developed the app for Windows that works together with a custom portable finger Matiscope to rapidly diagnose malaria. Patients place their finger inside the Matiscope where a red light contacts the skin and detects red blood cells. Lead Developer, Josiah Kavuma said, “It’s been shown that infected red blood cells have a different physical, chemical and biomedical structure from a normal red blood cell, hence we used light-scattering technology to determine the scatter patterns of both normal and infected cells.”
Gitta went on to explain that test results can be delivered in as little as 15 minutes and will cost around $20 for both the app and Matiscope – drastically reducing the time, cost and medical consumables that normal blood test for malaria incur.
Gitta also sees the social impact that the app and Matiscope can deliver when used in remote, rural settings and outlined “the potential value of reduced socio-economic costs of the disease for 300-500 million people.” The app has won the attention of a number of organisations, including the Director of SAS Clinic in Uganda, Moses Kizito who said: “With this test people may be able to avoid a doctor’s consultation and treat malaria in its early stages before it causes anaemia and brain damage. Once this app comes out, the impact’s going to be great.”
Matibabu has been funded by USAID resources such as the Higher Education Solutions Network, the Resilient Africa Network, the Microsoft DreamSpark programme and MU teaching hospital, Mulago Hospital. In 2013, Matibabu won the Microsoft Inaugural Women’s Empowerment Award– Imagine Cup for best addressing issues that impact women globally. Matibabu has also made the top 10 Malaria apps list.
Despite funding and global accolade, one of Matibabu’s challenges is that there aren’t many people with the right skills set to develop the components locally. Currently, Gitta and his team are refining the prototype to meet the standards for use and optimise its functionality. Gitta said, “During the second quarter we will do large scale testing that go through approvals and once complete we will launch the app to health services.”
Gitta explained that they will also launch the app to consumers as a way to self-test for the disease and they also want to partner with organisations such as WHO to distribute the technology as a non-mobile dependent and dedicated device to combat malaria.