Ugandan wins top prize for developing bloodless malaria test

Brian Gitta of Matibabu (James Oatway for Proof Africa/ Royal Academy for Engineering)

A young Ugandan software engineer has won a top innovation prize for developing a device which can detect malaria without drawing blood, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Brian Gitta, 24, and his team developed the device dubbed Matibabu, which means “medical center” in Swahili, after blood tests failed to diagnose his own malaria.

By simply clipping onto a patient’s finger and shining a red beam of light through the finger, the device can detect changes in the shape, color and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria, said the Academy in a statement released Wednesday.

Besides saving the hassle of drawing blood, the device is low-cost and reusable, and requires no specialist expertise to operate, said the Academy.

“The results are available within one minute on a mobile phone that is linked to the device,” it added.

“Matibabu is simply a gamechanger,” said Rebecca Enonchong, a judge of the prize. “It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development – in this case by improving healthcare.”

Gitta is the youngest winner of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, which was launched by the Academy in 2014. He has also been awarded 25,000 British pounds (some 33,197 U.S. dollars) in prize money.

Being Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation, the Africa Prize encourages talented sub-Saharan engineers to develop local solutions to challenges in their communities.

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