220 Million People
In 2017, an estimated 220 million people suffered from malaria. Malaria is a disease transmitted by mosquitoes which causes severe fever, anemia, and flu-like symptoms. An economic impact of malaria is estimated to cost billions of dollars in lost productivity. Currently, more than 97% of malaria cases occur in Africa and Southeast Asia, where medical resources are limited. A lack of accurate, affordable, and automated diagnosis solution is one of the biggest bottleneck of worldwide fight against malaria.
Even though more than $3 billion dollars of funds are being invested towards elimination of malaria, the progress is starting to plateau and rebound. In order to overcome the hurdles to progress, innovative breakthroughs in diagnostics technology is urgently needed.
What is the Problem?
Currently, Malaria is diagnosed by two main methods: RDT (Rapid Diagnostics Test) and microscopy reading. According to World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control, both solutions have critical faults in effective diagnosis of Malaria. RDT is affordable, fast, and easy, but can only be used for screening. Microscopy is a gold-standard method for diagnosing Malaria, but relies heavily on proper lab set-up and expertise of the technicians.
Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT)
RDT is a flow immuno-chromatographic antigen-detection test. Since RDT detects specific antigens, it can usually only detect one (P. Falciparum) of the four species of malaria. Also, since RDT is not a morphology-based diagnostic method, it cannot differentiate between different stages of the disease, which affects accurate prescription of malaria drugs.
Microscopy reading is considered the gold-standard diagnostic method of malaria, but it requires a skillful technicians to manually count each infected cell. Since this is a labor-intensive and meticulous process, there are plethora of opportunities for human error.
Microscopy reading requires a proper lab setting and skillful technicians. Since the sample-prep and reading process requires a proper lab setting, it can only be supported in central medical facilities, which limits accessibility.
The absence of fast, affordable, and accessible diagnostics solution for Malaria results in doctors over-prescribing malaria drugs to patients with fever. Drug resistance problem is one of the most critical problems that blocks eradication, and there's only one Malaria drug left that has not developed resistance.
Since there's no vaccines for malaria on the market yet, even non-patients take malaria drugs as a preventative measure. Timely and accurate diagnosis of malaria will enable travelers to safely travel to malaria-inflicted countries.
In order to eradicate a communicable disease, an effective disease surveillance is critical. Since most malaria cases occur in rural areas of developing countries, real-time surveillance has been difficult. Currently, the most common method of malaria surveillance is a door-to-door survey of cases which gets updated with weeks to months lags. WHO's E2020 project highlights surveillance as one of the three pillars of successful malaria eradication.