Malaria 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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