One of the most dangerous creatures in the world is one of the smallest – the mosquito. Coming to the rescue is one of the smallest counties in the world – Israel.
By Kenneth Mokgatlhe
Who is not afraid of sharks but in 2019 they killed only two people, which is below the average of four. Yet malaria, carried by mosquitoes, kills more than 400,000 people per year, most of them babies and toddlers in sub-Saharan Africa. While much of the world is obsessed with the danger that which kills two a year, Israel, whose Jerusalem-based start-up, ZzappMalaria, aims to eliminate malaria – a mass killer – by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI). Towards this lifesaving goal – particularly for Africa where I am from – the company has grabbed the world’s biggest prize for innovation – the XPRIZE.
For those unfamiliar, XPRIZE is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” through incentivized competition.
Developing a mobile app and dashboard to help eliminate Malaria, ZzappMalaria, won first place in the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE Competition, as well as the People’s Choice Award for the Most Inspiring Team. As part of the award, the company received a $3 million prize to continue its efforts to eliminate malaria from the world.
“The Zzapp team is deeply grateful to Xprize and IBM Watson for acknowledging the importance of the fight against malaria,” said Arnon Houri-Yafin, CEO and founder of ZzappMalaria. “We will dedicate the prize money to one ambitious goal: demonstrating that rapid malaria elimination is possible in Sub Saharan Africa.”
So how does it work? Zzapp uses AI to provide specific malaria-control strategies depending on the needs of each village or neighborhood. Then, it breaks down those strategies into clear and manageable tasks. Tasks are allocated to fieldworkers via its mobile app designed for local needs, such as battery consumption, internet access, and more. To date, the app has been tested in six African countries and has succeeded in increasing the effectiveness of operations designed to tackle Malaria.
Attracted by ZzappMalaria’s aim to eradicate malaria worldwide by developing a system to “plan, execute, and monitor large-scale and cost-affecting malaria elimination campaigns”, the 2016-founded company has won grants from the Gates Foundation and the Innovative Vector Control Consortium (IVCC) and has been conducting anti-malaria operations in Ghana, Zanzibar, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
“It is very gratifying to know that our technology is saving lives on a daily basis. In fact, our pilot product currently protects more than 300,000 people,” said Houri-Yafin. “ZzappMalaria’s app – which is GPS-based and works offline – is suited to work in the harshest conditions.”
“It simplifies our work considerably,” says Dr. Abebe Asale from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, a research body in Ethiopia which specializes in malaria. “Despite the technology’s sophistication, the app and the dashboard are very intuitive and user-friendly. In an operation in the Amhara region in 2019, we located all of the water bodies, which is usually a great challenge. The technology saved us time and energy, and in prioritizing severely affected villages.”
Although malaria is not a major public health problem in South Africa as yet, the country needs to be better prepared in order to ensure that the disease does not burden our over-extended public health care sector. It can do so by adopting efficient measures such as the AI method developed by ZzappMalaria. The notion of “prevention is better than cure” should reign supreme in our heads to ensure that our public health is prepared.
About 10% of South Africa’s population (4.9 million) is at risk of contracting malaria, largely in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Kwazulu-Natal. This is a significant number that should be a concern to all of us in South Africa. Malaria is a curable and treatable disease as long as it is diagnosed as quickly as possible. However, it is fatal if not done so in the earlier stages. That is where this new app becomes so vital. So, while many countries of Africa are increasingly availing themselves of life-saving Israeli technology and expertise, South Africa should too for the health and future health of its people.
As the world is facing a life-threatening Covid-19 pandemic, we are able to see the importance of life-saving discoveries in reducing casualties. It is clear that failure to avail ourselves of new available technologies, the price to be paid would be higher than what we are paying presently
ZzappMalaria has inspired confidence in those who were in despair and had accepted malaria as part of their being. Now, thanks to this Israeli company, there is much greater hope that malaria would be eradicated in our lifetime.
About the writer:
Kenneth Mokgatlhe is a freelance writer and political commentator from Zeerust, North West Province, South Africa.
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