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Makerere University gets Shs5.5b to support automated mobile microscopic diagnosis of malaria, cancer and tuberculosis

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Makerere University has received $1,500,000 (Shs5.5b) to support its Ocular project that is undertaking research on usage of Artificial Intelligence to enhance the diagnosis process of Malaria, Tuberculosis and Cervical Cancer in Uganda.

The Ocular Project was officially launched on September 13, 2023, by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance (MoICT & NG), Dr. Aminah Zawedde.

According to the Project Principal Investigator Dr. Rose Nakasi, The Ocular Project aims at building   a standardized point-of-care mobile microscopy for disease diagnosis with a specificity of up to 99%. The solution’s current focus is on malaria, tuberculosis and cervical cancer in Uganda.

Dr. Nakasi noted that the project team benched on the rampant challenges faced by the laboratory experts while undertaking diagnosis procedures.

“In our interaction with some experts from the health sector, we found out that it was indeed straining for health centres in Uganda to manage the escalating number of patients that seek for laboratory screening tests. In addition, the team noted that the country is also blessed with a few trained laboratory technicians to support the diagnosis process using the microscope,” she said.

“We therefore took advantage of the existing technologies such as the smartphone and the availability of at least a microscope in every health centre across the country to develop a 3D printable adaptor that was attached to an eye piece of the microscope. The 3D adapter was also slotted in the smartphone to capture images. With the capabilities of Artificial intelligence through computer vision, images can be processed and this directs the experts where the pathogens are,” she added.

According to Dr. Nakasi, this process shortens the diagnosis process making it more accurate, quicker and easier to diagnose health conditions and potentially reducing screening time by over 80%. With the new funding support from Google therefore, Dr. Nakasi said that the project will seamlessly expand to other conditions such as sickle cell anaemia, intestinal parasites and be scaled up in different pilot hospitals in Uganda.

Dr. Aminah Zawedde, the permanent secretary of the ministry of ICT said the Ocular we are launching today is an innovation and with support, we can scale it up into a commercial product that can be used not only in Uganda but across the continent.

“This makes me appreciate the goodness of God and the fact that Makerere University is doing amazing things. It is hard to tell how good home is until you leave and then make a return,” she said.

Dr. Zawedde, commended Makerere University for the grounds and foundation it has given to different generations that have stood tall to support the development process of this country in different capacities. “Everyone would like to support research that is impactful and speaks to our problems as the community. Given the zeal that Rose Nakasi had during her studies, there is a need to celebrate her,” she said.

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