As technology continues to become more accessible in poverty-stricken countries, one app hopes to improve the cost and accuracy of malaria detection. Recently developed by the London-based startup xRapid, the application is the world’s first commercially available mobile health solution that provides an automatic diagnosis of malaria. However, identifying malaria requires more than just an iPhone and the app.

In addition to the iPhone and free app, a special iPhone case with an attachable eyepiece and a microscope are also required to begin detecting malaria in blood samples. The user simply attaches the eyepiece onto the iPhone case and inserts it into the microscope’s eye tube, where it runs the test. A clinical laboratory report is then produced detailing the data collected during the examination.

Currently, there are three different methods used to diagnose malaria, each attempting to be the fastest, most accurate and cost-effective technique available. However, each process pales in comparison to xRapid in one aspect or another.

Rapid diagnostic testing (RDT), which detects specific malaria antigens in human blood, is significantly less accurate than xRapid, while polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is considerably slower and more technical and expensive to utilize.

Microscopy testing often referred to as the “gold standard” for laboratory malaria detection, is just as accurate as xRapid, but is much slower at conducting tests. This method requires an average of 30 minutes per assessment while xRapid can conduct an examination in under two minutes.

The availability and potential of this new, convenient technique and advanced technology for diagnosing malaria is vastly important as 3.2 billion people — 43 percent of the world’s population — continue to live in areas at risk of malaria transmission.

XRapid has already begun dispersing its product to impoverished countries such as Benin, where malaria is the cause of nine percent of total deaths. Additionally, in the near future, xRapid, with the assistance of Digicape, will expand the product to countries in Southern Africa that crucially need it, and presently rely on microscopy and RDT for malaria detection.

Recently, xRapid announced it is working on adapting the product to detect and diagnose tuberculosis, an equally life-threatening disease commonly found in poverty-stricken countries.

The malaria mortality rate has dropped 60 percent since 2000, and with the assistance of this mobile health solution, the numbers could continue to drop. Although the complexity and harshness of these lethal diseases cannot truly be grasped, the solution to them may be in the palm of our hands.

Jordan J. Phelan

Photo: Flickr