Efosa Ojomo, Senior Researcher, Harvard Business School, Forum for Growth and Innovation looks at the new innovation award recipient, the designers of the Urine Malaria Test, and explains how the technology disrupts the system that has made it difficult to reach the average malaria sufferer with appropriate diagnostics and treatment.
In 2015, 214 million people were infected with malaria, 190 million of whom were in African countries. Of those infected, 438,000 died, 91% of who were in Africa. In addition, malaria has significant financial implications on families, companies and countries. Experts estimate that in countries burdened with malaria, the disease is responsible for as much as 40% of public health expenditures, 30 to 50% of in-patient hospital visits, and 50% of out-patient visits.
From a financial standpoint, direct costs of managing the disease is up to $12 billion annually, while the cost in lost economic growth is many times more. Considering the scale of malaria’s impact on Africa, there have been many innovations that have helped curb the spread of the disease, but perhaps one of the most significant is Fyodor Biotechnology’s disruptive Urine Malaria Test (UMT).
Fyodor’s UMT is a simple urine test where patients simply pee on a stick in order to find out whether they have malaria. The World Health Organization states that “Early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and prevents deaths. Access to diagnostic testing and treatment should be seen… as a fundamental right of all populations at risk.” In other words, if we diagnose early, we will save many more lives and limit transmission.
UMT is an inexpensive (introductory price: ~$2 per test to end user) malaria diagnostic test that does not require the expertise of a trained professional. The UMT kit also does not require a lab or special disposal due to its simplicity. It is a three step process that lets patients know, in 20 minutes, if they have malaria.
Why the UMT is Disruptive
The most important hallmark of a disruptive innovation is that it makes complicated and expensive products simple and affordable, enabling many more people in society to benefit from the innovation. The UMT fits this model as the differences between the UMT and existing blood-testing kit below clearly illustrate.
One of the most exciting things about the UMT is Dr. Agbo’s goal to manufacture the product in Africa. “With an investment of $5 million, we can build a fully equipped manufacturing plant in Nigeria. That amount will only get us a building in the United States,” he explained.
It is solutions like these that African investors and policy makers need to support in order to get Africa on a path to sustainable economic development. As reported by Forbes, the UMT is an innovative product by Africans for Africans. This is why the UMT is an innovation winner.
(A longer version of this posting appeared on the World Bank Africa Can blog.)