Photograph — www.raeng.org.uk

24-year-old Ugandan software engineer, Brian Gitta, recently won the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation for his innovation Matibabu, a swift bloodless malaria testing device. Having missed school several times due to falling ill with malaria, Gitta and his team decided to create Matibabu.

To use, the device is simply clipped onto a patient’s finger, and a red beam of light shone through the finger detects the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells of the user, all of which are affected by malaria. Within a minute, the results are available on a mobile phone that is linked to the device.

The first Ugandan and youngest winner of the Africa Prize ever, Gitta was awarded the sum of £25,000, an equivalent 124 million Ugandan shillings for his invention. The 24-year-old said the recognition will help his team manage production better and open up much-needed partnership opportunities. “We are incredibly honoured 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,” he said.

Matibabu is aimed at individuals, health centres and diagnostic suppliers. Currently, the device is undergoing testing in partnership with a national hospital in Uganda while sourcing suppliers for the sensitive magnetic and laser components required to scale up production. The team also aims to set up the device on the streets of Uganda to enable people to conduct swift malaria tests.

Founded in 2014 by the Royal Academy of Engineering in the UK, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to innovation in engineering. The Prize encourages and promotes talented sub-Saharan African engineers from all disciplines to develop innovations that address crucial problems in their communities in a new and appropriate way. The Prize provides a unique package of support, including funding, business training, mentoring and access to the network of high profile, experienced engineers and experts of the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Through their participation, Gitta and his team have been approached by international researchers offering support, and are currently compiling their ground-breaking findings into an academic paper to be published in the next few months. Rebecca Enonchong, one of the judges of the Africa Prize said, “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. Matibabu is simply a game changer.”

In the past six months, sixteen shortlisted Africa Prize entrants, from seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, received training and mentoring to develop business plans and market their innovations. They also received lessons on how to communicate effectively, focus on customers and approach investors with confidence.

The runners-up who each won the sum of £10,000, for their innovations are Nigeria’s Ifediora Ugochukwu, Ghana’s Michael Asante-Afrifa, and Zimbabwe’s Collins Saguru. Ugochukwu developed the iMeter, an intelligent metering system that gives Nigerians transparency and control over their electricity supply. Asante-Afrifa developed the Science Set, a mini science lab that contains specially developed materials for experiments. And Saguru’s AltMet is a low-cost environmentally friendly method for recovering precious metals from car parts.

The fifth Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is currently open for applications to individuals and small teams with an engineering innovation, living and working in sub-Saharan Africa. The deadline for entries is 23 July 2018.

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