The World Health Organisation African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2017, the region was home to 92% of malaria cases and 93% of malaria deaths. In the same year the organisation reported that 5 countries accounted for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide: Nigeria (25%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (5%), India (4%) and Uganda (4%).
Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria is proven to reduces transmission of the disease and prevents deaths. Cases of suspected malaria are typically confirmed using parasite-based diagnostic testing (either microscopy or rapid diagnostic test). These tests are commonly done through a finger-prick to draw blood and the results are available within 15–30 minutes.
However, an Ethiopian student has invented a device for earl detention that does not require a blood sample and cuts down the results time substantially. Torpout Nyarikjor, an engineering student at Dilla University in southern Ethiopia moved away from generic testing to create a device whereby inserting a finger, laser sensors can identify whether blood is infected with malaria or not.
He explained to the BBC that the new malaria detector, called “Tor”, is about 70% accurate at the moment and in his fourth year of university student he is continuing work to make to it fool proof.
Nyarikjor’s inspiration came from the unfortunate death of his older brother, telling the BBC that, ‘’When I was young, I witnessed my older brother die of malaria. At the time I felt deeply sad and believed that I could one day stop it, but I didn’t know how.’’
The 24-year-old and his device won the regional level of an innovation competition called SolveIT! that is championed by the U.S. Embassy, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and organised by iCog Labs, a company based in the capital, Addis Ababa that works on artificial intelligence projects. The innovation competition encourages young Ethiopians to develop innovative projects, promote entrepreneurship, and solve local problems through technology.
Although he won the regionals, Nyarikjor did not win the finals thereby losing out on the $3,400 (£2,700) prize money that could have further financed his project. His device lost out to a 3D printer in first place, a machine that converts plastic waste into fuel and electrical power in second place and a monitoring device that tracks the frequency and strength of uterine contractions by controlling the drip of oxytocin in third place.
Despite the loss he is however optimistic he will still gain funding for his device.