Anti-malaria drug innovator wins $ 100,000

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Disease, especially in Africa, is a preventable cause of poverty, but remains a pressing problem in the continent. A 2015 World Bank report states that an overwhelming 99% of people who die from AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis (TB) live in the developing world.

The epicentre of the HIV and AIDs epidemic is sub-Saharan Africa, home to 70% of all new HIV infections. Malaria kills about 660 000 people each year, negatively impacting on African economies and households.

Economists believe that malaria is responsible for a growth penalty of up to 1.3% in some African countries, hindering economic growth in the region.

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Innovation Prize for Africa winners this year demonstrated know how and expertise, boasting dynamic new inroads to address the malaria and HIV disease burdens confronting Africa.

The winning innovations this year impressed the expert panel of judges, led by Amolo Ng’Weno: “The standards were very high, and it was difficult to make a decision; everyone is a winner and all of them were addressing major social issues. I congratulate the winners and look forward to the next five years of IPA”.

Dr Valentin Agon of Benin was unanimous winner of the US$100 000 Grand Prize for his innovation Api-Palu, an anti-malaria drug treatment that has hit the market not only in Benin, but in Burkina Faso, Tchad, and Central African Republic (CAR).

Made from natural plant extract, Api-Palu is significantly cheaper than anti-malarial drugs currently on the market; it has great inhibitory effects on 3D7 strains of plasmodium falciparum the causative agent of malaria.

Imogen Wright of South Africa scooped the Second Prize of US$25 000 for Exatype, a software solution that enables healthcare workers to determine HIV positive patients’ responsiveness to ARV drug treatment. Until now, national responses have focussed on access to treatment for all.

However, a growing number of people on ARVs are resistant to drug regimens, leading to failure of the therapy, exacerbating the continent’s HIV burden. Exatype processes the highly complex data produced by advanced “next-generation” DNA sequencing of the HIV DNA in a patient’s blood.

Through a simple report, it detects drugs that are resistant to the patient, then highlights the need to avoid these to ensure successful treatment.

The Social Impact Prize of US$25 000 was awarded to Dr Eddy Agbo of Nigeria for his Urine Test for Malaria (UMT) a rapid non-blood diagnostic medical device that can diagnose malaria in less than 25 minutes. More often than not, when fever is detected, anti-malaria medication is administered.

However, not all fevers are due to malaria. Also, the inability to quickly diagnose and commence malaria treatment can lead to various complications including kidney failure, build-up of lung fluid, aplastic anaemia and even death.

UMT detects malaria parasite proteins in the patient’s urine with fever due to malaria; it is simple and affordable, and a potential game changer in managing malaria and saving lives across Africa.

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