Making a Breakthrough from Failures

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It is an open secret that Africa is facing colossal challenges in different aspects of life. Some of these gargantuan problems are caused by massive corruption, which leads to other precarious menaces like poor education and healthcare, as well as social problems. To some individuals, these social challenges are part of the rat race, as such, one must learn to adapt and live with them; others, however, see the failures as a call for an urgent need to learn from the shortcomings, make amends and create something positive from them. The latter was exactly what pushed Brian Gitta, a Ugandan computer scientist, who recently won the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize. He won the award for his invention of a device which tests for malaria presence in a human body without a blood test.

At 24, Mr. Gitta is the youngest recipient of the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize. His device, named called Maitibabu (“medical centre” in Swahili), is regarded as a medical breakthrough because it cannot only diagnose malaria in a minute, the result can easily be shared on a linked mobile phone as well.

Interestingly, Mr. Gitta’s achievement became a reality following failures and frustrations, which pushed him to find ways to overcome them. He was inspired to develop his breakthrough device after his malaria sickness could not be detected through blood tests. Frustrated, the failures suddenly stimulated him and his team to look into a better way to discover malaria parasite in the blood without a blood test. Having in mind that malaria is one of the most deadly causes of preventable deaths in Uganda, and Africa, in general, Brian Gitta’s invention could not only help reduce the rate of deaths in his country, it is an immeasurable contribution to the improvement of healthcare in Africa.

What makes Gitta’s innovation unique indeed is the simplicity of its appliance, which works by simply beaming a red light on the finger of the patient. The light detects the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells, the three elements, which are affected by malaria.

Awarded £25,000 in prize money for the innovation, the Matibabu team, presently writing an academic paper on their discoveries, knows that the sky is now the limit. Offers for collaboration are steadily coming in; some international agencies and researchers have offered Mr. Gitta and his group some financial inducement and assistance aimed at future collaboration with them. The Matibabu team is now busy carrying out field trials on the device.

What makes the Matibabu team very interesting is not only their breakthrough device. No. The uniqueness of the group lies in the fact that despite the social and economic challenges facing Africa today, the continent is blessed with untapped potentials, who are ready and willing to turn their various countries into an economic wonderland. Unfortunately, they cannot achieve their dreams and capabilities or nor turn their potentials into innovations, simply because they are not encouraged. The support of the governments is not there. Rather than promoting innovation, by funding research, schools and providing quality education, African governments would rather hire professionals abroad. The result: the local talents remain undiscovered, untapped, as well as discouraged and frustrated.

Unless African governments look back to where the rain started beating them and learn from their failures, the continent will ever remain hardly progressive. Definitely, this will continue to force many of their sharpest brains to leave the continent to look for a greener pasture abroad.


Photo: bbc