Published on Africa Can End Poverty

Disrupting malaria: How Fyodor Biotechnologies is changing the game

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In a recent blog post, I made the case that disruptive innovation is the most viable strategy for economic growth in Africa. The post generated many comments and conversations, with people asking exactly how it would work. Since then, I’ve been collecting examples of successful disruptive innovations in various industries; this time, I’m tackling health care.

In 2015, 214 million people were infected with malaria, 190 million of whom were in African countries. Of those infected, 438,000 died, 91% of who were in Africa. In addition, malaria has significant financial implications on families, companies and countries. Experts estimate that in countries burdened with malaria, the disease is responsible for as much as 40% of public health expenditures, 30 to 50% of in-patient hospital visits, and 50% of out-patient visits. From a financial standpoint, direct costs of managing the disease is up to $12 billion annually, while the cost in lost economic growth is many times more. Considering the scale of malaria’s impact on Africa, there have been many innovations that have helped curb the spread of the disease, but perhaps one of the most significant is Fyodor Biotechnology’s disruptive Urine Malaria Test (UMT).

The UMT, a Significant Malaria Milestone
Before the introduction of the UMT, malaria diagnosis was done almost exclusively using a blood-testing kit. In order to use the kit, patients need a trained professional to draw blood, a lab kit to test the blood, and a method to dispose of the syringes and blood testing kits properly. This solution could not be adopted in many African countries where there are very few public health workers and public health facilities. So, as with many developmental interventions in Africa, the blood-testing kit was a perfect, but inadequately-integrated solution.

Fyodor’s UMT is simple urine test where patients simply urinate on a stick to find out if they have malaria. The World Health Organization states that “early diagnosis and treatment of malaria reduces disease and prevents deaths. Access to diagnostic testing and treatment should be seen… as a fundamental right of all populations at risk.” In other words, if we diagnose early, we will save many more lives and limit transmission.

UMT is an inexpensive (introductory price: $2 per test to end user) malaria diagnostic test that does not require the expertise of a trained professional. The UMT kit also does not require a lab or special disposal due to its simplicity. It is a three-step process that lets patients know, in 20 minutes, if they have malaria.
Source: Fyodor website 

The Significance of UMT in Africa
I was unsure of the significance of the UMT considering that since 2000, malaria mortality rates have fallen globally by 60%. But Dr. Eddy Agbo, inventor of the UMT, helped me understand why improving malaria diagnosis is more important now than ever before. “Whenever people develop a fever, whether it is malaria or not, they immediately treat the fever as if it is malaria. For us in Africa, fever equals malaria,” he explained. “But today, malaria is responsible for fewer fevers on the continent, so we are mistreating our fevers with malaria medication based on presumptive diagnosis. This can have adverse implications on the public health of a region,” Dr. Agbo concluded.

Why the UMT is Disruptive
The most important hallmark of a disruptive innovation is that it makes complicated and expensive products simple and affordable, enabling many more people in society to benefit from the innovation. The UMT fits this model as the differences between the UMT and existing blood-testing kit below clearly illustrate.

Table 1. Differences between the UMT and blood-testing kits Image

Business Model, Projections, and Impact
By mid-2017, Fyodor is projected to manufacture more than 2.3 million UMTs and is developing a business model to make the products available in all Sub-Saharan African countries. The impact of the UMT could be revolutionary. No longer would sick people need to self-diagnose their fevers and treat every fever with malaria medication; they can now confirm with a simple urine test. Imagine companies purchasing thousands of UMTs so their employees can more easily diagnose their fevers and rule out malaria quickly. Or imagine parents purchasing a $2 kit so they don’t have to trek miles to the few clinics we have to get diagnosed. The possibilities are endless.

One of the most exciting things about the UMT is Dr. Agbo’s goal to manufacture the product in Africa. “With an investment of $5 million, we can build a fully equipped manufacturing plant in Nigeria. That amount will only get us a building in the United States,” he explained.

It is solutions like these that African investors and policy makers need to support to get Africa on a path to sustainable economic development.


Efosa Ojomo

Research fellow at the Forum for Growth and Innovation at the Harvard Business School

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