EDITOR'S PICKHEALTH

A discourse with Engr Imoize on using technology to tackle malaria

Adeze Ojukwu

It is certainly not surprising that Nigeria has fared woefully, in the latest World Malaria Report.

The publication, which was released last Monday, by World Health Organization(WHO), revealed that progress against malaria ‘continues to plateau, particularly in the country, and other high burden nations in Africa.’

‘In 2019, six African countries accounted for 50 percent of all malaria cases globally.’

Out of this figure ‘Nigeria posted 23 percent, followed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo at 11 percent, while Tanzania had five percent, trailed by Niger, Mozambique and Burkina Faso at four percent each.’

It further noted that ‘gaps in access to life-saving tools are undermining global efforts to curb the disease, and the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to set back the fight even further.’

In his submission, the agency’s Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said ‘it is time for leaders across Africa – and the world – to rise once again to the challenge of malaria, just as they did when they laid the foundation for the progress made since the beginning of this century.’

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria, while presenting the new document, said ‘the global health world, the media, and politics are all transfixed by covid-19.’

‘Yet we pay little attention to a disease that is still killing over 400 000 people every year, mainly children. This is a disease we know how to get rid of—so it is a choice that we don’t,’ he emphasized.

Saddled with decades of mismanagement of scarce resources and political woes, Nigeria, is certainly in no good stead to kick out malaria, as is the case in Asian countries.

Nevertheless, most stakeholders are not surprised, given the gross deficit in budgetary allocations to health, research and infrastructure, culminating in the nation’s dismal social and economic status.

Undoubtedly the nation’s parlous demographic indices, endemic poverty and widespread corruption, remain shameful and embarrassing.

Sadly the emergence of coronavirus, is exacerbating these throes and threatening the malaria eradication initiative, in Nigeria and by extension the world.
By its status and bursting population,

Nigeria is very critical to the global malaria eradication campaign.
Consequently, its inability to push back malaria is stalling the universal agenda.

The call for innovation towards eliminating malaria in the country will certainly require tools that are not available today, the agency added.

This is a dilemma for a nation, contending with a highly deficient health sector, brain-drain, epileptic electricity supply and other existential plagues.

Government really needs to scale-up its arsenals, because the acute febrile illness, transmitted by the female anopheles mosquito, is the largest killer of children.

According to United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF) it kills one child every 30 seconds, about 3000 children every day.

‘In 2019 there were 229 million cases of malaria, compared to 228 million cases in 2018. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409 000 in 2019, compared with 411 000 deaths in 2018,’ the study revealed.

‘Over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age, with 90 per cent of malaria cases occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa.’

WHO estimated that ‘300-600 million people suffer from malaria each year, with more than 40 percent of the world’s population lives in malaria-risk areas.’

Nigeria, should indeed power-up its battle against Plasmodium falciparum malaria, which can progress to severe illness, often leading to death, if not treated within 24 hours.’

With the urgency to oust this blood-sucking parasitic ailment, perhaps the traditional use of drugs, treated nets, insecticides, as first line interventions can be combined with new technologies, for more positive clinical outcomes.

Therefore it has become quite important to turn to technology for possible respite, from this infirmity, that kills thousands of people annually, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Some scientists believe that harnessing the potentials of machine learning algorithms will be beneficial to the fight against malaria.

Engr. Agbotiname Imoize, a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) Research Scholar at Ruhr University, Germany, in a discourse, highlighted the prospects of such a proposition.
Agbotiname, a Fulbright scholar and lecturer with the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, University of Lagos, Nigeria, said the use of wireless technology can be the game changer.
Imoize, with interests in 6G Wireless Communications Systems, Channel Modeling and Multi-channel Communication Networks said ‘the new technological application is actually, a Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) – based application.’

‘It is a deep learning-based architecture, employing the cyclical stochastic gradient descent (SGD) optimizer that has an automatic learning-rate finding characteristics.’

Recently, the customized CNN-based end-to-end deep learning model to improve malaria detection on thin-blood smear images was jointly developed by some researchers at Cairo University in Egpyt, Taif University and King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

According to him, a closely related technology has been used to reduce malaria in China, by over 50 percent, according to hospital reports.

The authors reported that ‘the algorithm achieves an accuracy of 97.30 percent in classifying healthy and infected red blood cell images.’

His brief on the new wireless medical concept is very interesting.

‘The application, which does not require external power supply, can be deployed in an android-based mobile device to test and speed up malaria prediction and detection.’
By its configuration, the model ‘is designed with high computing functionalities, capable of processing complex data, within a very short time.’

Furthermore ‘it is also capable of distinguishing between healthy and parasitized red blood cells, thereby making the detection of malaria to be very easy and accurate.

‘Also the computing tool, which can be easily installed on Andriod mobile devices is highly affordable and easy to use, even by non-scientists because it can display results in readable formats.’

‘Obviously, people in rural areas can easily access the app on their battery-powered devices, even without electricity.’
Another benefit is ‘its ability to detect parasitized or unhealthy cells within a few seconds, making it highly sensitive and very reliable.’

According to him, it can be easily developed and installed on a mobile phone or any other suitable computing device.
‘Its high degree of precision, sensitivity and capacity to track other diseases, are quite advantageous,’ he explained.

It is equally exciting that ‘the algorithm can be developed in various forms to suit the diseases to be monitored.’

‘For Parkinson and related disorders, finger movements detectors are most appropriate, and iris recognition and segmentation algorithms could be more tailored for cataract diagnosis.’

‘The model gives a substantial value of Matthews correlation coefficients (MCC) of 94.17 percent and compared favourably with existing models investigated in the study,’ the researchers stated.

‘This again indicates a strong correlation between predicted and true labels of the red blood samples,’ Agbotiname added.

Apparently, ‘the algorithm will help to achieve microscopy diagnosis of malaria to a mobile application and would also contribute meaningfully towards resolving the problem of reliability of the treatment and dearth lack of medical expertise in this field.’

The authorities will do well in considering this novel technological model, advanced by Agbotiname and his colleagues, to defeat malaria and other deadly infections, afflicting the citizenry.

.Ojukwu, a journalist and Fellow of Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, wrote this treatise, as part of her advocacy for the promotion of quality health care delivery for all citizens, as well as the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in society. Kindly send feedback to [email protected]

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