The MOMALA-App Diagnoses ‘Malaria’ within 8 Seconds

December 15, 2017

“Every 45 seconds one child’s life is taken by malaria. Early diagnoses and treatments increase the chances for survival”, says Bouke Broeren, CEO van MOMALA. The algorithm in the MOMALA-app turns smartphones into a microscope with the expertise to detect malaria.

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Bouke, how would you describe MOMALA in one tweet?

“The MOMALA-app is a smartphone application, which can produce a malaria diagnosis with high accuracy in the rural areas.”

What does MOMALA do exactly?

“You can use your phone camera to look through a normal microscope, hereafter, the app reads the blood. MOMOLA recognizes white blood cells and plasmodium parasites, which belong to the genus that causes Malaria.”

Is everyone able to do that?

“Usually, only microbiologists are capable of understanding what happens within the blood. We summarized their knowledge in the app. The algorithm can identify three of the five malaria parasites in the blood. By doing more research, we’re able to identify all malaria parasites and to diagnose accordingly.”

Who is your target audience?

“Healthcare facilities, who can’t live up to the demand of malaria tests. In contrast to the Netherlands, in Africa, especially in Kenya, only half of the clinics are publicly accessible. In those locations, especially in the rural areas, you can see endless queues. In such a clinic, an average of forty to fifty people want to get tested for Malaria daily. The problem is that there is a shortage of specialists to take the tests and evaluate the results.”

Won’t microbiologists become unnecessary?
“On the contrary, MOMALA supports microbiologists in their jobs. It enables others working in the clinic to perform diagnoses. The MOMALA-app is a supplementary tool to help as many people as possible, without any additional help of medics.”

How did MOMALA start?

“The name is short for Mobile Malaria Labs. The idea is made up by Bram den Teuling, owner of Orikami. Orikami helps to find hidden patterns in data. Bram wrote a promising algorithm which could recognize one of the malaria parasites. Unfortunately, it wasn’t applicable for customers. Orikami then asked me to continue his work. I’ve got a background in artificial intelligence and nine years of experience in entrepreneurship. It gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. MOMALA can save people lives.”

How did you continue from there?

“The research continues and expands. Last year, a team of 4 data scientists worked on the algorithm for cellphones in an offline state. Since then, the algorithm can be used in places where internet connection and data storage are not available. Additionally, the algorithm is now able to recognize three of the five parasites and we’re working hard on those remaining two.”

Do you focus on Africa as a whole? Or specifically on Kenya?

“All the research and development now happens in the Netherlands but we’re actually planning to start working in Kenya. With a field study, we try figure out how well the app functions compared to the knowledge of the microbiologists. In eight weeks, we want to diagnose three thousand people approximately in six different hospitals with the MOMALA app. Based on this information we can enter the market because we know how to profile our product, know where the USP’s are set and what our business model is going to be.”

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Are there enough microscopes in countries like Kenya?

“Yes, nevertheless, only a few people have the knowledge to use the and to diagnose Malaria. Often money for microscopes from western countries is received, only the education to use them is missing.”

What do you mean?

“It easily takes two to three, even four years to cultivate a good microbiologist or lab technician. Also note that the African population is expected to double in the next twenty years. It’s easy to conclude that it’s impossible for schools to cover the gap that will arise because of that growth, therefore we need smart solutions. MOMALA is such a solution.”

How long does it take to trace malaria?

“Depending on the difficulty of the blood and on the number of parasites, a lab technician can get a diagnosis in five to fifteen seconds.”

Is the MOMALA-app faster?

“Currently the state of development in malaria countries makes us constrained to a few microbiologists and lab technicians. It’s important that someone, with a one-day training, is be able to make a high-quality diagnosis. The availability of the employees will therefore be the key to increased speed. The actual diagnosis is roughly the same: it takes 7 to eight minutes.”

So that’s the added value of MOMALA?

“Yes, in general one to four people who possess the right knowledge will be present in the big clinics. However, in the rural areas this is a rarity.  In that area, you easily add value with the introduction of such a microscope diagnosis. It only takes a one day training; the theory and practice are simple to administer and you don’t need a specialist.”

What has your participation in the Accenture Innovation Awards brought you?

“It makes you visible, your name reaches every corner of the country. Even at the WebSummit in Portugal, where the world’s biggest tech-event takes place, people knew about MOMALA because of the Blue Tulip Award from Accenture. I do have to take a closer look at the price though. Look at the best way to use it and to value of expertise of partners like Accenture, SAP, KPN, Emerce, also because we really want to use it well.”

What do you want to accomplish in the future and where do you see MOMALA in ten years?

“Now, we focus on publicly accessible clinics. Later, we want to be available to other healthcare institutions, which, as a result of our app, are be capable of growing in quality and scalability. The existence of an intelligent and portable microscope that can diagnose on its own without any interference of a specialist is my ultimate dream. Someone could take such a device anywhere, so it will put an end to long clinic queues.”

Read the original article in Dutch on Emerce

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