June 14 (UPI) — A Ugandan inventor has won the Royal Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Africa Prize for developing a method of testing for malaria without drawing blood.
Brian Gitta, 24, became the prize’s youngest winner Wednesday after he and his team developed Matibabu, or “medical center” in Swahili, the Royal Academy of Engineering said in a statement.
Gitta’s low-cost, reusable invention clips onto a patient’s finger and provides a result within 60 seconds on a mobile phone. A red beam shines through the user’s finger to detect changes in shape, color and concentration of red blood cells — all of which are affected by malaria.
“We are very proud of this year’s winner. It’s a perfect example of how engineering can unlock development — in this case by improving healthcare,” Africa Prize judge Rebecca Enonchong said. “Matibabu is simply a game-changer.”
Shafik Sekitto, a member of the Matibabu team, told BBC News Gitta came up with the idea for a bloodless test after it once took four normal blood tests for medics to diagnose him with malaria — the leading cause of death in Uganda.
“[Gitta] brought up the idea: ‘Why can’t we find a new way of using the skills we have found in computer science, of diagnosing a disease without having to prick somebody?” Sekitto said.
Gitta won more than $33,000 as the first-place winner at a ceremony in Nairobi, Kenya, where Africa Prize judges and a live audience voted for the most promising engineering innovation. Three runners-up won more than $13,000 each.
“We are incredibly honored to win the Africa Prize — it’s such a big achievement for us, because it means that we can better manage production in order to scale clinical trials and prove ourselves to regulators,” Gitta said.
“The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities — which is what we need most at the moment.”
The award, founded by Britain’s Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, is Africa’s biggest prize for engineering innovation.