Smartphone operated tool uses light beam to detect malaria
In 2021, the incidence of malaria cases and deaths will be off by 48 percent. Based on present trends that the world could be off the track to meet the malaria goals by 88 percent in the words of Abdisalan Noor, head of the Strategic Information for Response Unit, WHO Global Malaria Programme.
In order to help people to get back on track, experts of Australia in Australia and Brazil have created smartphones-powered, handheld near-infrared spectrumrometer that emits infrared beams for five seconds onto an individual’s arms, ears or fingers to look for changes in blood that are due to malaria.
They are hoping it can be used to help with the WHO’s proposal for universal screening program that is part of the strategy to eliminate malaria.
“If we are able to identify an extensive proportion of asymptomatic patients, they will be able to receive treatment and stop transmission to other patients, in particular children who are younger than five years old.” claims Maggy Lord, the lead author of the study published on December 7, in PNAS Nexus.
When a light beam is reflected off any body area, an infrared signature can be detected by a phone or a computer” Lord, a researcher at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences, informs SciDev.Net. “This fingerprint is reflective what’s in the bloodstream of the person. As malaria is a virus that infects red blood cells and causes chemical and structural modifications — these changes are visible in the reflection signature.”
Computer algorithms are used to create predictive algorithms that are able to distinguish malaria-infected from non-infected and provide results in real-time as she describes.
“These off-the-shelf spectrumrometers will cost you around $2,500, however they don’t require sample processing processes nor the use of reagents and can easily be scaled to scan around 11,000 people per hour using the instrument,” adds Lord.
The tool is the result of a collaboration in research with Australia’s University of Queensland and Brazil’s Instituto Oswaldo Cruz.
Its technology could also be used to combat various mosquito-related diseases like Zika and dengue among patients who are not symptomatic, and are a reservoir for mosquito-borne transmission Lord. Lord.
“This was a proof of concept. If we receive more funding we’ll be able to extend the research to other malaria-prone areas before we are able to recommend these devices for medical use. We are expanding our collaboration with our partners with partners in Kenya as well as Tanzania,” she adds.
The World Health Organization’s 2022 World Malaria Report highlights the need for investing in new technology as well as improving the health system and expanding funds. The WHO estimated that there were two million malaria cases worldwide in 2021. While African countries were responsible for around 95 percent of the cases, and 95 percent of fatalities, malaria-endemic nations within regions in the South-East Asia region contributed to around 2 percent of the burden from malaria this year.
In 2021 the majority of malaria cases within the WHO’s South-East Asia region were concentrated in India with increases in cases also being observed in Bangladesh as well as Indonesia, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Indonesia. For the WHO’s Western Pacific region, Papua New Guinea is responsible for 87 percent of cases in 2021. It was followed by Solomon Islands, Cambodia and the Philippines.
Malaria Consortium’s Senior Research Adviser Jane Achan saysthat “Sensitive diagnostics can play an important role in the surveillance and early detection of malaria outbreaks as malaria combat efforts increase and countries move to elimination stages. Therefore, innovative and cutting-edge instruments for diagnosis are required urgently particularly in light of recent threats to the efficacy of some instruments currently in use.”
“Non-invasive instruments for malaria diagnosis are appealing because they are a quick, non-reagent-free and cost-effective option, however their specificity and sensitivity need to be tested in endemic areas and research conducted about how they can integrate into the practice of healthcare globally,” Achan, who is not associated with the research, tells SciDev.Net.
This work was developed in collaboration with SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.