Brian Gitta, a 24-year-old Ugandan software engineer and the 2018 winner of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, proved that solutions can come from personal experience and our day-to-day struggles. After missing university lectures due to chronic malaria, Gitta developed Matibabu, a device that tests for malaria without a blood test.
Brian Gitta, the first Ugandan and youngest winner of the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, landed the award by developing an innovation that addresses crucial problems in his community in a new and appropriate way - exactly what the competition encourages.
With a team to back him, Gitta developed Matibabu, a device that tests for malaria without drawing blood. Matibabu, which means 'treatment' in Swahili, is a low-cost, reusable device that requires no expertise to use and gives results in minutes. The device clips onto a patient's finger and shines a red beam through the user's finger, detecting changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are used to detect malaria.
According to a press statement, Matibabu is currently undergoing testing in partnership with a national hospital in Uganda and is sourcing suppliers for the sensitive magnetic and laser components required to scale up production. Once this phase has been completed, the device will be marketed to individuals, health centres and diagnostic suppliers.
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation team shortlisted 16 entrants from seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa, who received six months' training and mentoring. In this time they learned to develop business plans and market their innovations. Out of the 16, four finalists presented their projects at the awards ceremony held in Nairobi on 13 June 2018. These presentations were then judged by the Africa Prize judges and a live audience.
This year's judges were Mr Malcolm Brinded (president of the Energy Institute, chair of Engineering UK and trustee of the Shell Foundation), Rebecca Enonchong (founder and CEO of AppsTech and I/O Spaces), Mariéme Jamme (co-founder of Africa Gathering and founder of iamtheCODE and SpotOne Global Solutions) and Dr John Lazar (Angel investor and technology start-up mentor).
Securing first prize with his medical solution, Gitta won £25 000 (124 million Ugandan shillings). Close behind were the three runners-up, who each won £10,000. They were:
- Collins Saguru (Zimbabwe) for 'AltMet', a low-cost, environmentally friendly method for recovering precious metals from car parts
- Ifediora Ugochukwu (Nigeria) for 'iMeter', an intelligent metering system that gives Nigerian users transparency and control over their electricity supply
- Michael Asante-Afrifa (Ghana) for 'Science Set', a mini science lab that contains specially developed materials for experiment
Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2018 Winner Brian Gitta Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2018 Finalist Collins Saguru (Zimbabwe) Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2018 Finalist Ifediora Ugochukwu (Nigeria) Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2018 Finalist Michael Asante-Afrifa (Ghana)
After his win, Gitta said in a press statement: "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. The recognition will help us open up partnership opportunities - which is what we need most at the moment."
Gitta and the three runners-up beat some amazing projects, including the following:
- Brian Mwiti Mwenda (Kenya) for the 'Sixth Sense', a handheld echolocation device with ultrasonic sensors that alert visually impaired users to objects nearby
- Lawrence Okettayot (Uganda) for the 'Sparky Dryer', a low-tech dehydrator that dries fruit and vegetables to extend their shelf life and reduce food wastage
- Shalton Mphodisa Mothwa (South Africa) for the 'AEON Power Bag', which allows users to charge their phones on the go by converting radio waves and solar energy into power.