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A South African Company Develops Saliva-based Test to Combat Malaria

This saliva-based diagnostic tool is technically called the Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test (SMAART) for subclinical infection.

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Updated:September 4, 2019, 2:04 PM IST
A South African Company Develops Saliva-based Test to Combat Malaria
Representative image. (Image: Reuters)

The mosquito-borne disease malaria, which generally occurs in tropical and sub-tropical areas, has become a major menace in many countries. The battle against malaria has been going on in different countries for a long time. A startup company from South Africa, which goes by the name Erada, has received a sum of €288,000 as foundation grant from London based company De Beers Group to work on a saliva-based diagnostic test called SALVA! to help combat malaria.

This saliva-based diagnostic tool is technically called the Saliva-based Malaria Asymptomatic and Asexual Rapid Test (SMAART) for subclinical infection. It will complete its field trials before full commercialisation and distribution in 2020. The foundation grant will be supporting the final stages of work, prior to the devices’ global launch in April next year.

De Beers Group has a long history of supporting community and health projects. This particular investment will globally impact the fight against malaria, which happens to be one of the globe’s most deadly diseases. According to estimation, malaria is accounted for the death of 435,000 deaths every year, and children under the age of 5 are the major victims.

On receiving the generous grant, Erada founder Dr Benji Pretorius, said, “This generous grant from De Beers Group makes it possible for Erada to complete much of our vital preparatory work before we conduct field trials and finalisation of commercialisation of SALVA! The introduction of SALVA! is going to play a major part in achieving effective diagnostic testing and surveillance; as well as prevention and treatment of this disease, and therefore will be a major catalyst in meeting the WHO’s 2030 target to reduce malaria incidence and mortality by 90%.”

Adding a personal touch, he continued, “As someone who contracted malaria, and as a practicing GP myself, I know first-hand that if the parasite had been detected early, I could have been treated and cured before the symptoms of the disease made me unwell. It was precisely this experience in my life which spurred me on to work with my colleague Dr Richard Schmidt in our small community, Musina, in South Africa, together with a global team of scientists. Our vision is to bring to the market as quickly as possible Erada’s SALVA! diagnostic tool in the belief that it will go on to save literally millions of lives in the future. De Beers’ generous support is the foundation stone upon which we will make this vision a reality.”

The saliva diagnosing tool includes a device for standardised collection of saliva that can be implemented in the community by healthcare professionals, teachers and parents; contrasting with invasive blood tests, which must be administered by trained clinicians.

The SALVA! detection tool works by detecting a biomarker for Plasmodium falciparum parasites. In some areas of the world, the parasites have acquired a mutation and are therefore no longer detected by current blood-based tests. But Erada’s saliva test detects an essential protein which the parasite needs for survival. This will help in avoiding the problem of mutation and keep the test effective long-term.

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