Ugandan startup wins 2018 Africa Prize for bloodless malaria diagnostic test

Matibabu has been named as the winning innovation in the 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation. Photo: Facebook/UKinKenya

The 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation has been won by a Ugandan startup for their bloodless malaria diagnostic test, Matibabu, at an event in Nairobi attended by UK Deputy High Commissioner to Kenya, Susie Kitchens.

Launched in 2014, the Prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovative engineers from across the continent and is supported by The Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund and the UK Government’s Global Challenges Research Fund.

Speaking at the start of the evening, Ms Kitchens acknowledged the range of talent in the room before outlining how 56 Africa Prize alumni across four years of the programme are changing lives in many ways with engineering innovations.

Susie Kitchens at Africa Prize
Susie Kitchens speaking at the final of the Africa Prize in Nairobi. Photo: Twitter/RAEngGlobal

Susie also challenged Kenya’s innovators to take the prize next year.

‘”I am unashamedly biased towards Kenya,” she said. “While we do not have a Kenyan representative in the finals tonight, I am pleased to say that we have had more Kenyans go through the Africa Prize programme than any other nationality. The 2019 Africa Prize is currently open for applications so perhaps the first Kenyan winner of the Prize is in the room today!”

The UK High Commission in Uganda Tweeted their congratulations to the winning Matibabu team, adding: “Thank you for your contribution to the fight against malaria.”

2018 Africa Prize
Susie Kitchens at the 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation in Nairobi. Photo: Facebook/UKinKenya


The winning innovation was Matibabu, which means ‘medical centre’ in Swahili. Developed by 24-year-old computer scientist Brian Gitta, Matibabu is a low-cost, reusable device that clips onto a patient’s finger and uses light to detect changes in the shape, colour and concentration of red blood cells, all of which are affected by malaria.

Within one minute the test results are sent to a mobile phone linked to the device. Of the 400,000 deaths globally every year due to malaria, 90% are in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in children below five. Malaria kills more children under five in this region than HIV.

Currently, all available tests for malaria require blood samples, which are invasive, expensive and time-consuming, and rely on well-resourced laboratories, but Gitta’s team is working closely with a large local hospital to run tests, and academic papers document their innovative work.

Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation. It encourages talented sub-Saharan African engineers, from all disciplines, to develop local solutions to challenges in their communities. The Prize selects innovators from across the continent and provides training and mentoring to help turn engineers with incredible ideas into successful entrepreneurs.

It was following this period of mentorship that the finalists were invited to present at tonight’s event in Nairobi, with the winner receiving £25,000 along with three runners-up, who are awarded £10,000 each.

Matibabu has been named as the winning innovation in the 2018 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.

Tonight’s event in the ‘silicon savannah’ also coincided with London Tech Week in Europe’s tech capital, where British entrepreneurship and engineering excellence are being showcased to the world.

Through the UK and Kenya’s Newton-Utafiti Fund, the Royal Academy of Engineering is also partnering with the Kenya National Innovation Agency, to run the Leaders in Innovation Fellowship Programme.