Researchers from the University of Glasgow are leading a new international project which aims to provide Sub-Saharan Africa with portable, reliable and affordable methods to diagnose diseases.
The Digital Innovations and Diagnostics for Infectious Diseases in Africa project, or Didida, brings together 14 partners from eight countries: Kenya, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, and Italy.
It is supported by €6m (£5.2m) in funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme and €2m (£1.75m) from the UK Research and Innovation fund.
The aim of the project is to develop a graduate school in Sub-Saharan Africa with a cohort of 16 PhD students, drawn from areas including digital innovations, social science and healthcare economics. Cohort events will provide this new generation of researchers with the tools to become leading contributors in the fight against diseases in Africa.
The students will be part of a team which aims to develop innovations to improve the healthcare pathways of individuals in low-resource under-served rural communities using digital medicine and mobile diagnostics.
The top five causes of death in Africa are related to communicable diseases: severe respiratory infections, HIV/AIDS, diarrhoea, malaria, and tuberculosis. Together, they account for nearly 80% of the total burden of infectious diseases, killing more than six million people every year.
Over the next five years, the Didida team will develop improved diagnostic tools for infectious diseases in rural areas, building on previous research and development partnerships led from the University’s James Watt School of Engineering.
Glasgow researchers have already developed prototype versions of the system to diagnose conditions including malaria and schistosomiasis, and field-tested them in Uganda with support from local researchers and government.
Didida will expand on that research, enabling better care for patients by providing a simple, cost-effective mobile autonomous diagnostic solution capable of diagnosing multiple diseases, including malaria, in a single session.
It will also link these conditions to non-communicable diseases including hypertension or diabetes, drawing upon expertise in the use of digital wearables for monitoring co-morbidities provided by Professor Frances Mair of the University of Glasgow’s School of Health & Wellbeing.
By linking the test to mobile phones, it will provide access to high-quality diagnostic assays in areas with limited health infrastructure.
Health workers will have access to the collected data to make treatment recommendations directly to patients and will also benefit from geographic information to guide local decision making. All technologies are based on open-source, transparent and easily deployable solutions such as m-Health for the mobile data application and the already-existing DHIS2 health data infrastructure.
The project will build upon Sub-Saharan Africa’s strengths in mobile health services and payment, which covers millions of users. Didida will rely on the know-how of recognized operators for the implementation of the digital part of the project.
The consortium plans to implement the first platforms within African health infrastructures to collect and process test data in Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Professor Jon Cooper, of the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering, is the project’s principal investigator. He said: “Didida is a multidisciplinary project that combines health research, socio-economic studies and digital innovation leading to new impacts in clinical diagnostics and engineering. The project has a strong African involvement with an ambition to strengthen capacity across PhD training in institutes and organisations in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Our aims include the creation of a user-friendly and low-cost digital diagnostic tool integrated on mobile phone platforms to improve healthcare. The project will also impact on the decentralization of health care in Europe and the United Kingdom.”