Makerere Invents Malaria-Diagnosing Phone

Makerere-students-behind the MATIBABU Malaria innovation explain as RAN Director Dr. Wanjiku Nganga (2nd L) looks on.
Makerere-students-behind the MATIBABU Malaria innovation explain as RAN Director Dr. Wanjiku Nganga (2nd L) looks on.

“Makerere does it again,” read a tweet posted by one of the University’s communication officers.

This was moments after Makerere students were voted 2013’s best innovators during this year’s very prestigious TechCon conference held in Williamsburg Virginia USA.

The conference was held under the auspices of Higher Education Solutions Network (HESN), a mechanism through which the American government-funded USAID promotes innovations towards solving humanity’s contemporary challenges.  The challenges targeted are related to healthcare, food security and conflict.

USAID annually organizes this TechCon conference to provide a platform for young scientific innovators to showcase their innovations before leading American private sector leaders and investors who are later persuaded to fund such innovations with grants.

Over 400 eminent and biggest American private sector leaders converge and vote on the best innovations. This year’s TechCon had finalist exhibiting students from seven universities of whom only one (Makerere) was from Africa.

They were University of California, Berkley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Duke University, The College of William & Mary AidData Center for Development Policy, Texas A&M University, Makerere and Michigan State University.

All these are big name academic institutions whose budgets are bigger that budgets on which some African countries operate. Over the weekend, Makerere management organized a news conference to celebrate their win at this year’s TechCon conference in Virginia where over 400 leading private sector leaders and investors in America voted it the best global innovator.

Makerere presented two innovations for consideration namely: Nelson Wasswa’s “water4lyf innovation” and Brian Gitta’s “MATIBABU” which was finally voted best overall by American investors. MATIBABU, which is a Swahili word for medical center uses the mobile phone technology to diagnose malaria without having to prick the patient’s finger to take off the blood slide.

The team of Makerere-RAN innovators that won during the 2013 TechCon conference in Virginia.
The team of Makerere-RAN innovators that won during the 2013 TechCon conference in Virginia.

The innovation is cheap and is expected to harness efforts to contain Malaria in Africa which remains the biggest killer. The conference participants found this technology fascinating and timely at this time when malaria is wrecking havoc in Africa.

Gitta, a student of computer science at Makerere made his presentation at the TechCon and the audience voted it the best innovation of 2013. Along with four other fellow students-Josiah Kavuma, Joshua Busingye, Simon Lubambo and Alvin Kabwana-Gitta has been getting funding and support from Prof William Bazeyo-led ResilientAfrica Network (RAN). RAN is a $25m USAID-funded grant meant to promote scientific innovations resulting into African problems being solved by African solutions.

RAN Project’s Chief of Party Prof William Bazeyo, who along with Prof David Serwadda travelled with Gitta’s group to Virginia TechCon event, says that RAN is implemented in partnership with 16 Universities drawn from 20 African countries and Makerere, which won the competitive $25m grant after beating 500 world universities, is the lead implanting academic institution.

Through RAN, USAID/US government seeks to promote poor communities’ ability to effectively respond to both natural and man-made disasters. RAN executes its mandate by supporting innovations such as those exhibited by Gitta’s group.

University Secretary David Kahunda Muhwezi, who represented management at the Friday celebrations, said the win at Virginia proves that Makerere’s recent ranking as 4th best in Africa was well merited and not a fluke.

Scorpus’ latest rankings also ranked Makerere 2nd best research-lead University in Africa after Cape Town University. Kahunda said Makerere can even do much better once it can overcome the funding challenges.

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