Why are people still dying of malaria when we have a treatment?

By | August 27, 2019

Ugandan inventor Brian Gitta created a way to test for malaria without a blood sample. He hopes it will help people get vital treatment faster, and enable us to track and ultimately beat the disease

Technology 21 August 2019

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Rolex/Joan Bardeletti

A 9-YEAR-OLD child is locked between his mother’s legs, refusing to have the blood test that could save his life. That is a regular sight at Brian Gitta’s nearest clinic in Kampala, Uganda, where people wait for hours in long queues to learn if they have malaria, one of the leading causes of death in the country.

Worldwide, 219 million people get malaria each year and 435,000 people die of the disease. More than 90 per cent of those deaths are in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

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We can treat malaria, but accurate diagnosis is essential: the drugs targeting the mosquito-borne parasite that causes the disease can harm people who don’t have it. Diagnostic tests take time and, worse still, they are invasive. The most widely used method involves analysing a blood sample under a microscope, a process that can take up to an hour. Rapid diagnostic tests are becoming more widespread, but they still require people to give a blood sample.

Gitta thought there must be an easier way and when he started studying at Makerere University in Uganda 2012, he set out to find it. Now he and his team are running a clinical trial for a portable, non-invasive device that uses light to identify malaria in the bloodstream in just 2 minutes. He hopes it won’t only save precious time for people with the disease, but also help us to track malaria around the world.

Why did you take on such a huge problem?

Growing up in Uganda, I went to a traditional …

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