Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Malaria TV: Low Cost, Collaborative Diagnostics

A couple of researchers at the University of Toronto have come up with remote diagnostic tool – Malaria TV – that they funded out of their own pocket. It seems a fair amount of infrastructure is needed, but this set up allows for remote diagnosing for various diseases which I am guessing will be restricted to mostly urban areas in developing countries. I am curious what the bandwidth requirement is on the either end. One positive is that this is another tool that can be utilized and can hopefully slightly mitigate the healthcare worker shortage in developing regions:

“Malaria TV, designed by three researchers at the University of Toronto’s Laboratory for Collaborative Diagnostics (LCD), can be cobbled together from a bunch of everyday tech tools. The Malaria TV project is an example of how public health tools can be designed, developed and delivered using: 1) collaboration technologies like Access Grid; 2) commodity or cheap computation gear and 3) generic public health lab microscopes and CCD cameras.”

“The newly developed system can enable remote detection of HIV and tuberculosis and more importantly will allow a diagnostician to view in real time the blood sample of a patient in another part of the country or the world. Using cheap, readily available components and open source software, West Suhanic, executive director and an IT consultant, and Peter Pennefather, a professor of pharmaceutical science and the lab’s academic director, have built a prototype diagnosis tool. The equipment is basically a jury-rigged piece of hardware consisting of a PC that can capture images from any medical microscope using a TV tuner card and broadcast them over an Internet connection. A doctor in one city who isn’t sure if the sample he or she is looking at is actually malaria can consult with someone like Crandall for an expert diagnosis.”

“Suhanic added that “we’re just trying to develop all of our tools around open source” in order to keep costs down and allow anyone in the world to use it without having to worry about using proprietary technology or software licensing issues. He says Malaria TV is an example of commodity engineering, in that specific components used to create the system are accessible pretty much anywhere: a generic PC, some form of network connectivity, a microscope and a digital camera.” Full Story.



Written by Aman

March 12, 2007 at 9:12 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Socio – thanks for you comment and perspective. While I agree with you on some points, I see things differently on others.

    I don’t find that point derogatory in the least, unless their comment and intention was directed as such, which I don’t think it was. The story behind this technology, as I understand it, is that Canada has had some major fluctuations in malaria cases, more so than any other developed country. As a result many doctors are ill-equipped in Canada (as you rightly allude to) to identify and accurately diagnose malaria. So I think this technology and that comment about doctors in other cities needing help, was specifically pointed mostly towards other Canadian docs.

    At times I also do wonder what is the point of a particular technology OR if something is truly
    unique/revolutionary as many things have been done before (e.g. the idea of social entrepreneurs is certainly nothing new, but the movement and critical mass is). To me it is about building up that ecosystem of possible products, solutions and people who have expertise in various areas. Sure the idea of “Malaria TV” may not be revolutionary, but people are going to pursue these projects and I would rather see more options out there and I applaud them for their efforts.

    I do agree with your overall point about perspective (the other vs the Western counterpart), cultural sensitivity and historical awareness. In my opinion, especially in American schools of public health, there certainly could be more efforts made to discuss these issues openly.


    March 15, 2007 at 8:50 pm

  2. Hmm, in general this seems like a good thing. However, I wonder about the name ‘Malaria TV, in my experience African technicians are better at diagnosing malaria from blood slides than European ones (and presumably Canadian ones). Mainly because they see this day in day out. I find a comment like:
    ‘A doctor in one city who isn’t sure if the sample he or she is looking at is actually malaria can consult with someone like Crandall for an expert diagnosis’ rather derogatory. In the first place, doctors on the whole do not diagnose from blood slides – there are technicians who are trained to do that, secondly it assumes (as always) that the western doctor/specialist is better than the African specialist, despite the fact that African specialists and technicians are often well trained and see these diseases every day. Here in Bamako for example, we have several ‘state of the art’ diagnostic labs whose work seems to be very good indeed.

    I rather cynically suspect part of the motive behind this innovation is to give Canadian technicians more exposure and experience in diagnosing these diseases.

    Given the potential bandwidth problems and need of infrastructure I wonder what the take up of this innovation will be.

    See also my posts:

    The key to malaria prevention is not better diagnosis but the distribution of bednets and adequate spraying of breeding areas – in other words the eradication of malaria carrying mosquitoes.


    March 14, 2007 at 8:28 am

  3. This looks much like other projects involving telepathology–definitely a super app in many places.


    March 13, 2007 at 8:35 am

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