innovative technologies stopping malariaMalaria has plummeted by 40% fifteen years after 2000. A report that NCBI published attributed this to mosquito preventative measures like bed netting and insecticides. These interventions and practices, like wearing light color clothing, help at-risk populations fight malaria. However, mosquitos are learning to fight back. Resistance to insecticides is evolving in mosquitos and malaria continues to afflict millions. In 2018, there were still 228 million cases of malaria and 405,000 deaths. Over 90% of these cases and deaths occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, but there are many interventions that have the potential to stop malaria. Here are three innovative technologies stopping malaria.

3 Innovative Technologies Stopping Malaria

  1.  The SolarMal Project: The SolarMal project is part of a new arsenal of defenses against mosquitos and their diseases beyond the typical netting and spray. SolarMal is a solar-powered mosquito trapper. The solar panel mainly serves to power a vent in the SolarMal, but it also has been able to store and serve as an electricity provider for the houses it protects. The solar panel sits on the roof of a house and connects to a trapping device on the ground. Inside the trapper is an odorous chemical that mosquitos prefer to people. A ventilation unit then sucks the hungry mosquitos inside where they cannot escape. On the Island of Rusinga, the SolarMal project has decreased the mosquito population by 70% and malaria incidence by 30%. This technology works and is applicable to other mosquito-borne illnesses like the Zika virus and dengue fever.
  2. DJI Phantom: There are two places experts try to stop mosquitos: in their breeding grounds and in their feeding grounds. Netting, insecticides and the SolarMal project work to prevent malaria in mosquito feeding grounds in the towns and residences where people live. DJI Phantom is the name of a low-cost drone that can survey wilderness and find mosquito breeding grounds. Of these three innovative technologies stopping malaria, the Phantom is the most indirect but also one of the most essential. There are many ways to limit mosquito breeding once people have found their habitats but discovering them has now become much more efficient. High-resolution satellites can also be helpful in finding mosquito breeding grounds. However, these methods are very expensive and require perfect weather conditions. This is difficult as most mosquitos breed in wet areas that typically have cloud coverage. Drones offer a cheaper and more consistent method to discover mosquito habitats. In 30 minutes of fly time, this drone can capture 30 hectares to analyze for still bodies of water. Field surveys of breeding grounds could only spot half the water bodies the drone was able to discover. Once people have located the mosquito breeding grounds, they may disperse chemicals or oils to disrupt mosquito larvae.
  3.  Gene-Drive: The nonprofit Target Malaria develops mosquito solutions using CRISPR gene-editing technology. There are three phases of genetic modification that Target Malaria conducts. For the first phase, scientists are developing sterile male mosquitos to release into the wild. Male mosquitos do not bite people and when the sterile males mate with female mosquitos, they do not produce offspring. This method can decrease their population but only for one reproduction cycle. Phase two looks to decrease the population over a longer period of time. This stage is the self-limiting stage and it aims to make a reproduction bias towards male mosquitos. Phase two genetic modifications will undergo natural selection after some time. In the following stage three, Target Malaria will look to make these genetic changes permanent. Creating a male bias mutation that successfully survives between generations, the number of female mosquitos will decrease 10-fold and severely limit the population. Target Malaria is still in the initial phases, but it must take great care as there could be many unknown side effects on an ecosystem.

Stopping malaria is a focus for many African communities and there are many organizations looking into possible solutions to stop the spread and hopefully eradicate this disease. Estimates determine that eradicating malaria by 2040 would save 11 million lives and surge $2 trillion of economic growth. Advancements like these three innovative technologies stopping malaria are making this future vision possible.

– Brett Muni
Photo: Flickr

Malaria in Burkina Faso
Starting every July, citizens of Burkina Faso prepare themselves. While some prepare for a harvest or the school year to begin, many prepare for mosquitoes. Peak mosquito and peak malaria season begin in July and runs through September.

Malaria is a serious burden on the Burkinabé people. In 2015, the disease, which is treatable and preventable, was responsible for 61.5 percent of hospitalizations and 30.5 percent of deaths in Burkina Faso. That same year, malaria accounted for roughly 70 percent of deaths in children under the age of 5. In 2018, there were 11,915,816 presumed and confirmed cases of malaria. While reports say that 4,144 people died of malaria in 2018, experts estimate the true total to be above 30,000.

However, change is on the horizon. Recently, the nonprofit research group Target Malaria began testing its newest weapon against malaria: mosquitoes.

Using Mosquitoes to fight Malaria in Burkina Faso

In the small village of Bana, 10,000 genetically modified, sterile male mosquitoes, coated in fluorescent dust, were released into the wild. Although mosquitoes have been genetically modified in Brazil and the Cayman Islands, this was the first time such mosquitoes have been released in Africa, and out in the world.

This release was a long time in the making. Target Malaria, led by Abdoulaye Diabaté, began research in 2012. However, in the seven years it took to reach this point, far more was needed than just research. Diabaté and his research team also sought to bring in the community. Such an experiment was sure the bring skepticism and criticism from local tribes, so Target Malaria sought the approval of tribe leaders before letting the mosquitoes into the wild. In May 2018, all of the tribe leaders signed off on the project, giving their approval.

The overall goal of Target Malaria’s research is to develop a special gene in mosquitoes that will squash the malaria gene, effectively eradicating malaria in Burkina Faso and wherever else the mosquitoes reach.

This first release is a stress test. Over 99 percent of the mosquitoes released are sterile males, which cannot bite and pass on their genes. Scientists wanted to test how these mosquitoes fare in the wild, track their behaviors, flight patterns and flight dispersal, as well as see how the ecosystem reacts to these new mosquitoes. The mosquitoes should die within a matter of months.

The next step for Target Malaria is research and analysis. According to Diabaté, the team plans to spend the next year working with information from this stress test. Then, they will continue to develop the malaria-squashing gene, as well as continue to build community relations. The remaining scientific research component should be completed in two to three years. However, because of developing community relationships and education processes, the group expects the mosquitoes equipped with the gene to be released in six or seven years.

Because of the nature of this project, Target Malaria has not been without criticism. Environmentalists warn of the dangers of tampering with an entire species of mosquito and the possibility of unforeseen consequences. According to Diabaté, the group understands this but also highlight the tremendous possibilities if the project is successful. There are 3,500 different species of mosquito in Africa and 850 in West Africa alone. Target Malaria is attacking one species of mosquito and possibly saving thousands, if not millions of lives from malaria in Burkina Faso and the rest of Africa. For Target Malaria, the risk is worth the reward.

What is Target Malaria?

Target Malaria is a nonprofit research group that aims to develop and share technology for malaria control in Africa. The team’s vision is to create a world free of malaria. The team consists of scientists, stakeholder engagement teams, risk assessment teams and regulatory experts from Africa, Europe and North America. They operate from Burkina Faso, Mali and Uganda.

Diabaté himself is a native of Burkina Faso and is familiar with malaria after suffering through it himself. His wife, children and sibling have also suffered bouts with malaria as well. Malaria in Burkina Faso is a far too common issue for his family and millions of others.

The research Target Malaria is doing has the possibility of eradicating malaria. If successful, the genetically modified mosquitoes will replace the standard bed nets and medical treatments. These mosquitoes have the potential to change the lives of millions throughout Africa.

– Andrew Edwards
Photo: Wikimedia Commons