By 2015, an estimated 500 million smartphone users across the world will be using some sort of mobile healthcare application, according to industry figures cited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In the same timeframe, an estimated three million people will have lost their lives to malaria. One mobile healthcare app which may make a dent in malaria deaths is Lifelens, a new app that can help diagnose malaria with 94% accuracy from a drop of blood.
“Malaria will kill two children every minute this year,” says Lifelens team member Cy Khormaee from the Harvard School of Business. Khormaee is one of five graduate students who came together from across academic disciplines and four universities to become the co-founders of Lifelens. According to Lifelens, approximately $1 billion a year is spent treating malaria—but more than half of that cost is wasted on people who don’t need it. Current diagnostic tests for malaria are only 40% accurate. “The result is a test with a 60% incidence of false positives. Consequently, each false positive will result in medication being delivered to a patient with no need for treatment–effectively wasting that dosage,” says a statement on the site. Additionally, Lifelens contends that treatment of uninfected individuals also increases the likelihood of the parasites' developing resistance to artemisinin-based combination treatment (ACT)—the WHO-recommended first line treatment for the disease.
Still in the testing stage, Lifelens uses Microsoft Windows Phone 7 software combined with an inexpensive (less than $50) durable spherical microscopic lens attachment which easily fits on to a smart phone. The camera + lense combination produces high resolution images that can actually show blood cells (details in Lifelens' overview video on YouTube). According to Physicians Weekly, “the cost of conventional rapid diagnostic tests is $3.40 per patient. Using Lifelens, the estimated cost is $0.56 per patient.” Anyone who can operate a basic cell phone can use the app. No special training or language skills are necessary. And it doesn’t need an Internet connection. Lifelens will be sold directly to the medical service administrators of governments and NGOs involved in malaria testing for further distribution to health service providers in the field.