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Felix Gonda: Diagnosing Malaria To Save Lives

Felix Gonda: Diagnosing Malaria To Save Lives

Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to a researcher and entrepreneur working to make the world a better and healthier place. Here is Felix Gonda, founder of Reach AI. Are you ready to be inspired? 

Spiffy: Welcome, Felix! I’m super curious to hear about the challenges you are addressing. Can you tell us about your work?

Felix: Thanks for interviewing me, Spiffy! At Reach AI, we are addressing the lack of access to malaria diagnosis in low-income settings such as Africa. Did you know that malaria causes the deaths of thousands of people every year, especially children in developing countries? In fact, every two minutes a child dies from malaria in the world. This is unacceptable.

Spiffy: I didn’t realize that malaria was still so rampant. What motivated you to work on improving diagnosis for this?

Felix: As a child, I had malaria and received proper treatment because my parents had access to health care.  But for every child that dies from malaria, I know their experience. So, I want to use my Harvard-acquired training to ensure immediate access to malaria diagnosis for every child and adult in a low-income setting.

Spiffy: I see! How would you say that you are working to create a more equitable world? 

Felix: We are developing a smartphone microscope that can diagnose malaria with high accuracy. Our microscope is affordable, costing only $50, and can be used by mobile clinics and community health workers to diagnose malaria in rural areas where immediate access to health services is lacking. Our microscope ensures patients in rural areas receive proper treatment and discourages self-medication, which often leads to complications that can result in fatality and antimalarial-resisting parasites.

Spiffy: That’s amazing, Felix. Can you share about a recent milestone and the impact it has had?

Felix: We just completed our second hardware prototype development and are now engaging with local doctors and non-governmental organizations in South Sudan. This critical step allows us to validate our product and get feedback from our primary customers to improve our solution.

Spiffy: I’m always curious how entrepreneurs deal with failure. What about you? When have you faced failure and what did you learn?

Felix: A year ago, I submitted a paper to a peer-review journal that got rejected due to insufficient user studies. I was very disappointed at first because of the many months of hard work that went into the research and writing the paper. But after digesting the reviewer's comments, I realized that this was an opportunity to strengthen the quality of my paper. After conducting a thorough user study, I resubmitted the paper, and this time it was accepted and nominated for the best student paper prize.

Spiffy: Well done, Felix! Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience? 

Felix: Yes, Spiffy, I believe the opportunity to improve the health and well-being of citizens is a great responsibility. Saving the life of a single child from malaria will give them a chance to live the life I have, so I feel a great sense of responsibility to enable access to malaria diagnosis for every child.

Spiffy: I’m guessing that belief is going to take you—and this work—very far, Felix. Thanks so much for talking to me. It’s been an honor!


Felix Gonda is the founder of Reach AI and a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at Harvard University. His research focus is the intersection of computer vision, artificial intelligence, and robotics. Felix wants to use his research skills to solve problems that directly impact the lives and well-being of citizens. (Nominated by Harvard Innovation Labs)

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog