With a new, poison-free approach to malaria control, researchers in the Solarmal project have expressed not only the hope to eliminate malaria in Africa at local level, but also to provide the local population with a source of sustainable energy. Research into this combined approach was facilitated due to a donation to the Wageningen University Fund by the COmON foundation.
Researchers at Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, plan to make the island of Rusinga in Lake Victoria malaria free. As part of the Solarmal project, the team will place odour-baited mosquito traps that lure the malaria mosquitoes away from the homes of the local population. This will lead to less biting, and less malaria transmission. The project is being implemented in partnership with the local community, which will continue the work to eliminate malaria.
The mosquito traps are hung outside and near the homes of the thirty thousand inhabitants on the island, which measures ten by fifteen kilometres. The traps contain 'an odour that smells like humans' which attracts the mosquitoes and thus prevents them from flying indoors. Once in the trap, the insects are killed by dehydration, thus making insecticides redundant. The power for the ventilators for the traps comes from a solar panel on the roof, which not only guarantees the operation of the traps but also provides the household with electric light and a means to charge their mobile phone. Any cases of malaria which do occur will be treated by the local medical team which is part of the project. The plan is to eliminate malaria from the island of Rusinga in five years' time. The structure of the project is a model for the approach elsewhere in Africa.
The insecticide-free approach also offers a solution to the increasing resistance of malaria mosquitoes to the chemicals with which mosquito nets are treated and house interiors are sprayed. The combination with a power supply also improves the quality of life of the village population. Above all, this method effectively supplements the successful Roll Back Malaria Strategy advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO). With the introduction of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide and early diagnosis + drug treatment, in the past decade the WHO has managed to stabilise or even reduce the number of malaria cases after a long period of increase, mainly in Africa.
The Solarmal project is led by Professor Willem Takken, professor of Medical and veterinary entomology at Wageningen University. He works together with the local medical team and with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE). The project involves students from both Wageningen and Kenya. Earlier, Takken's group analysed human odours, such as the components of sweat, to which mosquitoes navigate to find a victim.
Recently, the WHO announced that the number of malaria cases had declined slightly worldwide in the past decade but that there were still 225 million cases and 781 thousand deaths, mainly children, in 2009. Every year, around 2.5 million people become infected with the parasite spread by infected malaria mosquitoes from one human to another by a bite.
The annual costs for Africa, where malaria is most prevalent, amount to 8.7 billion euro, mainly due to loss of labour and household expenditure. Moreover, farming practices in Africa sometimes conspire to maintain the disease by its creation of breeding sites.
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