Matibabu : The journey towards a malaria free world through early diagnosis

When Brian Gitta fell ill, he had to undergo a series of diagnostic tests to determine what he was suffering from, all of which required blood to be drawn from his system. The process was painful as it was terrifying seeing that he was getting injections for a separate condition at the same time. He started thinking of how tests could be done without drawing blood.

“An average malaria test done in most hospitals takes around 30 minutes using microscopy. If you factor in the time spent on the queue waiting to see a doctor, an early diagnosis may just be the difference between life and death. This means there was also a need to reduce the amount of time spent diagnosing malaria.”

These discoveries prompted Brian, a Computer Engineer to team up to team up with Joshua, Simon, and Josiah to come up with a diagnostic solution that was able to diagnose and determine the severity of malaria in the least amount of time without drawing blood. Due to the gaps identified, the team expanded further bringing on Shafik and Moris. Together they came up with matibabu a device that diagnoses malaria within 2 minutes without drawing of blood. "

“This device will have a great impact in reducing deaths by malaria in the world through early diagnosis. With the high doctor to patient ratio, it would also help reduce the amount of time doctors spent on diagnosing malaria patients in turn increasing the number of patients attended to in a day.” (Brian Gitta)

According to Teresa Were a senior pediatrician at Makerere University School of Medical Sciences an early diagnosis of malaria not only helps with early treatment but it also prevents the spread of malaria which will in turn significantly reduce the cost of treating malaria.

When Makerere University launched an initiative called the ResilientAfrica Network as part of HESN to give local innovators a platform to demonstrate their innovative solutions to local problems the team presented their prototype and they were on boarded to the Accelerator program. Under RAN they received incubation and a grant to help with developing their product.

“We took an interest to their innovation because it was novel in the sense that it was non-invasive and had the element of diagnosing malaria under 2 minutes and telling the level of malaria in the body.”

“We are really grateful for their resilience. At first most people were of the opinion that these ‘boys’ were thinking way ahead of themselves but they are still committed to delivering the product even though it has taken them a while due to regulatory issues which is common with health innovations.” Ronald Kayiwa of R.A.N.

In 2016, they applied for the E4I Challenge They had a tough time travelling to Kenya on bus and arrived minutes after the pitches were closed. After a lot of persuasion they pitched and their innovation emerged top. They went on to win $10,000 and 6months incubation from Villgro Kenya. Recently they won at Pitch Palace, they have bagged several awards including Microsofts Imagine Cup, Apirin Social Innovation Award among others.

In hindsight, the team agrees that when they were starting off they should have tried to get some training in business as they were purely computer engineers by then and they did not understand business terms.

“It took them about 6months without using a dollar of the money they received from R.A.N because they did not know how to go about it. Getting experts from Uganda to work with them was also not easy so they had to outsource.” Ronald

“We have gained very useful insights on how to commercialize and come up with the best business model for Matibabu through Villgro Kenya. It is also encouraging how we were awarded 6 month incubation but we are still on their portfolio to date. The Tangaza MBA scholarship I won at the E4I challenge also helps us manage our business part of the project.”  Shafik Seketto.

One of the challenges they are facing is tight regulations for start-ups in the health sector. Asked for a solution, Brian says there should be a separate platform for start-ups because going through the current process is costly both in terms of money and time.

Currently the team is looking to go into clinical trials. They plan to build doctor’s and patients trust in the product by moving gradually from invasive to non-invasive.