Bringing malaria diagnostics up to scratch


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

In 2016, malaria killed 430,000 people. In Africa, a child dies every two minutes from the disease. Fast, accurate diagnosis is key to people getting the treatment that they require. Microscopy, the golden standard in malaria diagnostics, is time and resource intensive, and with sometimes as few as one in 40,000 people in a country medically trained, often people are just not diagnosed quickly enough.

MOMALA is an innovative method designed to get people diagnosed quickly and at a minimum cost. Using a smartphone and a microscope, the MOMALA app uses an algorithm to detect the presence of malaria parasites on a regular blood smeared slide, essentially digitising the lab technician. By attaching the phone’s camera to the microscope’s ocular, the app photographs the blood smear and then analyses it, without the need for the smartphone to be connected to the internet. So far, the app can identify the three most common malaria parasites in Kenya: P. falciparum, P. ovale, and P. malariae, both speeding up the diagnostic process, and improving the accuracy of results.

MOMALA will start by being implemented in six hospitals in Kenya for a field study, diagnosing up to 3000 patients. After completion of the field study MOMALA will make its market entry partnered with Amref Health Africa, who have been delivering programmes in Africa for over 60 years in more than 30 countries. While MOMALA is responsible for the delivery and development of the technology, Amref will act as the sales, training and distribution partner with access to the market. Amref’s strong network and other partnerships with WHO and National Malaria Control Programmes, along with their expertise, knowledge, and the buy-in they have from stakeholders in Africa, will enable MOMALA to rapidly scale up.

At the moment, the application is limited by its reliance on microscopes, which are bulky, heavy, and not easily transportable. MOMALA aims to reduce this limitation by working with partners to design more portable, user-friendly microscopes.

Though currently only used in malaria diagnosis, the potential for the scaling up of MOMALA to diagnose other diseases is massive. With a growing team of data specialists, health experts and entrepreneurs, along with the partnership with Amref, MOMALA hopes to scale up to make an impact throughout Africa, on numerous diseases.

If you’d like to collaborate with MOMALA, or learn more, please contact Bouke at [email protected].