The app that helps cure malaria by playing with the mobile phone

According to data from the World Health Organization, more than 3,000 million people, half of the world’s population, are exposed to the possibility of being infected by malaria. The risk areas are spread across 97 countries of the world on four continents (Africa, South America, Asia and Oceania) and in 2015, 214 million cases were diagnosed, which, according to different estimates, killed almost half a million people. Despite the progress made in recent decades, malaria remains one of the most devastating diseases. The transmission of malaria through the bite of the female anopheles mosquito makes it very difficult to eradicate in endemic areas, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where the highest mortality rate from this cause is located. Figures that could be drastically reduced with an early diagnosis of the disease.

What nobody expected is that the solution could be found in something apparently as far removed from the world of medicine as a video game. To have that idea, a scientist with an iconoclastic touch or, as he defines himself, anti-disciplinary, was necessary. That scientist is the Spanish Miguel Luengo, who had the great idea to think big: if around a billion people regularly play video games and 70% do so from a mobile phone, why not use all that human potential in helping those who need it? This is how MalariaSpot was born, a game for smartphones in which thousands of people identify malaria parasites in digitized images of real blood samples. The effectiveness of the method is comparable to a professional’s diagnosis and allows detection of malaria in patients who do not have access to an adequate medical system.

A telecommunications engineer and doctor of biomedical engineering, Luengo was awarded last year with the MIT Innovators Under 35 award for this project that “combines gamification and social responsibility”. A development that still has a long way to go, since, as the Spanish scientist affirms, this same system can be used with other diseases such as tuberculosis.

Text: José L. Álvarez Cedena #elfuturoesone

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