Matibabu: How a smartphone app and one engaged team could fight malaria

Matibabu is the first smartphone-based diagnosis system for malaria. Malaria is still one of the biggest health problems in Africa. The team Code8 from Uganda have developed this ingenious idea and also just won the Microsoft Imagine Cup as the first team from Africa ever recently. We talked to the Lead Developer Josiah Kavuma. 

Matibabu app, malaria diagnosis, code8 team, Matibabu


Matibabu is a mobile app which can diagnose malaria without pricking the body. Tell us something about the basic idea?

The basic idea involves a custom made piece of hardware which consists of a red LED and a light sensor. A finger is inserted into the device to diagnose and the results are viewed via a smartphone.


Can you introduce the team to us and name the different responsibilities? 

The team mentors are Josiah Kavuma (Team Head and Lead Developer), Brian Gitta (Team Sec and Developer), Simon Lubambo  (Team Member and Elec. Engineer)  and Joshua Businge (Team Member and Research Coordinator).


How did your team develop the idea? 

The idea was developed after one of the team members fell sick of malaria and went through a painful and traumatising process of needle pricks and they tried to draw blood out of his body to test for malaria. In addition, the whole process took over 30 minutes just to get the laboratory results. As all this happened, we asked ourselves the same question, “Can‘t there be a way we can have this process less or not painful and timely?” We sat down after return from hospital, brainstormed and concluded we should take on the project.


How does the technology work? Could you explain it briefly in a few words?

The idea basically works with red light. Light is triggered into the skin to reach the Red Blood Cells. Light is used to determine the state of the Red Blood Cells to determine ones malaria status.


Did you have any problems within the development – when it comes to technical infrastructure? 

Yes we did. The biggest problem came in with the hardware, light sensors that we couldn’t find on time, and this somehow affected our efficiency levels as we needed high resolution sensors and also had to place the sensor at specific angles. We also needed LEDs than can vary wavelength to about 6 times. This was way too hard to achieve.


How did modern technologies like smartphones and apps enable realising your idea? 

Smartphones have a high processing power, a big resource to use in software development. Also, the fact that smartphone are app driven, and that apps are small, portable yet effective we saw this as the best way to brood our idea.


Why is Matibabu a tech thing that matters? 

Matibabu is a tech thing that matters because it uses simple technology to address and solve one of the world‘s toughest problems especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries in the world. In addition, Matibabu is a life-saving solution if embraced and used by people to detect malaria while in its early stages.


The mobile malaria diagnosis system Matibabu


What are the next steps for Matibabu?

The next steps are deeper research and development, mass production and market penetration.


Do you get any support by the government or do you have any other supporters?

Apparently it had not any support from government, but we have had support from The School of Public Health here in Makerere University and also had technical resources such as software from Microsoft’s DreamSpark Program.


What has to happen to make Matibabu ready for „series production“?

Deeper feasibility studies and testing the solution against the gold standard, the microscope.


Do you have a vision for Matibabu? 

Our vision is to see the solution being used all over the world to detect malaria cases early. Hence early treatment will save many lives and many unborn babies as many mothers have had miscarriages because of malaria during pregnancy.


Are there any other ideas you are working on?

Definitely, and all I can say for now is “watch the space!”


Do you have a message to our readers in Europe and the US? 

Technology is the way to go, but let us use it to first solve the world’s toughest problems and make it a better place to be.


About what or who do you want to read in our blog?

I want to read about many more interesting ideas from all over the world.

I would also love to read about business ideas and inspiration from people who have made it in the business world. Contacts to venture capitalists are also key.

Thank you.


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