Scanwell has partnered with the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND) to develop a smartphone app that uses machine learning and computer vision algorithms to read rapid in vitro diagnostic tests (RDTs) for malaria, helping healthcare professionals in the field interpret and record test results. The app will be compatible with many brands and types of both RDTs and mobile devices, enabling broad use in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Diagnostics are crucial to global elimination of malaria. Scanwell's app will aid in case detection and help to ensure that patients receive the appropriate treatment, so they can be cured, and the chain of transmission can be broken. The app will also support on-the-ground data collection and feed into regional and national digital surveillance systems designed to help combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR threatens the efficacy of antibiotics that we rely on every day, and its burden falls disproportionately on low- and middle-income countries, where health systems are often weak, resources are stretched, and "just in case" antibiotic prescribing is common.
Malaria RDTs are already widely used to test at-risk individuals in LMICs – however, the implementation of malaria RDTs has been linked, in cases with negative malaria results, to an increased use of antibiotics. Additionally, reading and interpretation of malaria RDTs is not always straightforward: one study in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found 25% of laboratory health workers were making frequent errors. The app developed by Scanwell aims to both reduce user error and also help healthcare workers to determine the specific strain of malaria so that the most appropriate treatment can be prescribed.
The partnership between FIND and Scanwell Health was inked in late 2019 following a robust request for proposal process that resulted in submission of 16 technologies that fit criteria defined by FIND. FIND will be testing the first iteration of the Scanwell Health app at healthcare facilities in collaboration with partners in three LMICs.
"We are honoured to be working with FIND on this important issue," said Stephen Chen, founder and CEO of Scanwell Health. "The rise of digital health has made healthcare more accessible, but the clinical diagnostics experience has lagged behind. Our modern approach eliminates the need to visit a doctor's office or lab for diagnostic tests, making our technology perfectly suited for field applications like FIND's."
"Malaria elimination and robust disease surveillance both depend on point-of-care testing that can be performed at the lowest levels of the healthcare system," said Catharina Boehme, CEO of FIND. "Using technology to optimize the use of RDTs for better patient care, while also enabling the collection of critical data to inform policy decisions on AMR strategies – and potentially also pandemic response – is a double win."
The evaluation of the app is expected to be completed this year and implementation is anticipated to expand into 2–3 additional LMICs. The implementation will focus on connecting this app with existing digital tools at a community healthcare level and national surveillance systems for monitoring AMR.