Ethan Arpi

A Watch That Detects Malaria

mosquitoIn a New York Times article published in June, Business Joins African Effort to Cut Malaria, Sharon LaFraniere writes about the international mining company Billiton and its six year effort fighting malaria in Mozambique.? When more than one third of its staff fell ill with malaria and the mine’s operations came grinding to a halt, business executives realized that it was in their rational self-interest to put an end to the disease.? They teemed up with other businesses and three African governments and together, using better bed nets, pesticides, and drug treatment, they turned a malaria hot zone into an almost disease free environment.? Now, even after such success stories, inventors and health experts are looking for new tools to stamp out the disease.? One of the more interesting, and more controversial, tools is a malaria detecting wristwatch. ?

According to an article published online at MSNBC, Gervan Lubbe, a South African inventor, has created a wristwatch which he believes will be vital for the continued fight against malaria.? Mr. Lubbe’s invention contains a tiny needle which pricks the skin 4 times a day and, using the drawn blood sample, tests for the malaria parasite.? If the parasite count tops 50, then an alarm is sounded and the user takes a medication which kills all traces of the disease. ?The watch sells for $280, far outside the price range of the low-income consumer, but affordable for a business like Billiton that depends on healthy workers.? The watch is also far cheaper than the cost of treating a patient suffering from malaria.? As always, preventative medicine makes the most sense.

And yet in spite of the watch’s promised benefits, many health experts have expressed concerns.? In an article published in the New Scientist, Roxanne Khamsi takes a cautious tone, quoting a health expert at Johns Hopkins University who says that if the watch is shared, it might contribute to the spread of HIV and other infectious diseases.? Jon Rosenblatt, another health expert at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, was skeptical, explaining that he was still waiting to read about the device in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. ?

Even with such concerns, however, the watch has already caught the attention of business and government leaders.? According to Mr Lubbe, his company, as of January, has received 1.5 million orders for the watches.

Given the concerns about HIV, I?m inclined to err on the side of caution here.? What’s wrong with bed nets and other traditional ways of fighting malaria?? As Billiton has shown, traditional preventative medicine works; it just takes will.? But of course if Mr. Lubbe’s wristwatch is effective and doesn?t spread disease, then I?m all for it.