Wristwatch fights malaria

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A South African inventor has developed an antimalaria wristwatch that helps combat one of Africa’s biggest killers by monitoring the blood of those who wear it and sounding an alarm when the parasite is detected.

Gervan Lubbe said his “malaria monitor” wristwatch, due to launch next month, could save lives and keep millions out of hospital by heading off the disease before patients even feel ill.

“It picks up the parasite and destroys it so early that the possibility of dying is absolutely zero and you don’t even feel the early cold symptoms,” Lubbe told Reuters in a telephone interview this week.

Malaria, caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, kills more than a million people every year and makes 300 million seriously ill, according to the World Health Organization. Ninety percent of deaths are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The sturdy digital timepiece pricks the wrist with a tiny needle four times a day and tests the blood for malaria parasites.

If the parasite count tops 50 an alarm sounds and a brightly colored picture of a mosquito flashes on the watch face. The wearer must take three tablets that kill all traces of the disease within 48 hours.

Lubbe was approached by a major mining company to develop the device after it found high levels of malaria among workers in Africa was hurting productivity.

“If you wait until you get symptoms and a malaria diagnosis, you can be in bed for six months and have to take huge quantities of quinine, which can be dangerous,” Lubbe said.

His company, Gervans Trading, has already received 1.5 million orders for the wristwatch from companies, governments and aid organization working in Africa, he said.

The watch will cost around $280 (1,700 rand), which Lubbe said is cheaper than treating a patient with severe malaria.

It also means people working or traveling in malarial areas can avoid taking expensive antimalaria tablets which can come with nasty side effects.

Mining companies can monitor miners by making them walk through a scanner each day. The watch’s radio frequency will transmit the wearer’s information to a central computer so health departments can ensure people at risk take tablets.

Lubbe said several African governments and the World Health Organization had expressed interest in distributing the watch in rural Africa where access to treatment is scarce.

Lubbe, 38, won a gold medal for the world’s best medical invention at the International Inventions Show in Geneva in 1998 for a pain relief device.?

Source: Reuters (link opens in a new window)