From the perspective of our drone partner DJI. Written by and special thanks to Eduardo Rodriguez.
Why drones could be disrupting in our fight against malaria...
228 million cases worldwide in 2018; 93% of these in Africa!
405 thousand deaths; 93% of these in Africa, mostly children and pregnant women!
272 thousand of these are children below the age of 5!
Although progress in malaria control around the world has been massive in the past fifteen years, with insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying of insecticides, there are also hurdles in moving forward. One of the biggest threats is insecticide resistance. Also, notably in SE Asia, resistance to antimalarial drugs is a serious cause for concern. If we lose the current weapons, insecticides and drugs, the gains of the last 15 years may get lost.
Although an experimental vaccine will be tested in three African countries in the years to come, and biotechnological approaches to render mosquitoes refractory to infection with parasites have been developed in the lab, such developments will take time before being deployed in the field and have passed all the regulatory hurdles.
Larval control, although widely practiced in the developed world, is slowly gaining more interest in Africa but is not yet systematically used on a very large scale. The main reason for this is the difficulty of covering terrain and reaching all breeding sites from the ground – a problem that is easily tackled in the developed world with the use of helicopters and fixed-wing spray aircraft. Time for a change…
Do you want to know how we can solve these problems with anti malaria drones?
Rice farmers and their families often work and live very in the middle of large tracts of irrigated land and therefore in the middle of the cause of the menace: breeding sites that produce thousands of malaria mosquitoes.
Adults enjoy a certain extent of immunity towards malaria but still fall ill from time to time and need treatment. Often this results in a substantial number of days absent from work or not being able to work in the fields to grow crops. Adults often need to stay at home to look after their children when they have malaria and sometimes face the horror of losing a child due to the scourge. Malaria is costly and families may at times spend a quarter of their income on care and prevention methods. Malaria results in loss of income and reduces harvests.
Below a figure showing the vicious circle of malaria causing poverty and poverty fueling malaria (International Food Policy Research Institute).
Want to know more about the impact of malaria on agriculture and food production? Read the blog below.
A world without hunger, which is one of the development goals of the UN, is being threatened by malaria. Africa intends to become self-sufficient in rice production by 2020, but this goal will likely not be achieved because of malaria. On a large scale, malaria impacts agriculture and specifically rice production.
In agricultural areas endemic for malaria it has been estimated that harvests may be up to 60% lower than in areas where malaria is less of a problem or absent.
Companies and rice cooperatives notice the problems caused by malaria first-hand. First, their production and labour input is threatened when employees are sick or have to look after their sick relatives. Second, most of these organisations bear the health costs for their employees and families, which can be very high. Lastly, they need to provide replacement labour during the period of absenteeism.
Rather than curing people after they contracted malaria, it may be more cost-effective to become pro-active and prevent infection with malaria in the first place by reducing the mosquito population with drones. This is what we wish to prove in our pilot project.
Controlling malaria results in less suffering and therefore more economic opportunities for (rice)farmers, their families and cooperatives. Improved economic perspectives, in turn, leads to further development of African nations. A growing economy presents the basis for better education and general well-being of society, thereby reducing international (economic) migration and unrest.
The image below shows the interconnectedness between malaria and agriculture (source: International Food Policy Research Institute):
The impact of malaria on especially African countries is a matter that should not only concern large foundations, philanthropists, the UN or WorldBank but also politicians, companies, and society at large in the rest of the world. The battle against malaria in Africa is a battle we must all fight.
Are you curious to know how we will use anti malaria drones in malaria control?
What we did
During the pilot project on Zanzibar in Tanzania we used a drone to fly over irrigated rice fields to spray a biological insecticide. Prior to, during, and after the spraying exercise we closely monitored the density of mosquito larvae in a set number of fields sprayed with water only (control fields) or AMF (Treatment fields). Our goal is to monitor the mosquito population over time in order to assess the potential contribution of the approach in malaria control.
We intend to publish the results of the pilot trial in Tanzania in a peer-reviewed scientific journal in 2020 and will also disseminate the results through social media channels to increase uptake of the approach.
At the source
Irrigated rice fields provide ideal breeding sites for malaria mosquitoes, sometimes producing thousands of mosquitoes per hectare. A female malaria mosquito can live 30-40 days and produce 50-200 eggs during her lifetime. These eggs turn into larvae and later pupae and after 7-14 days (depending on the temperature of the water) become adult mosquitoes.
We will spray fields with a biological control product called Aquatain AMF. AMF consists of a monomolecular film (PDMS). This results in a reduction of the water surface tension making the mosquitoes drown or unable to breathe.
Aquatain AMF of the Australian company Aquatain is a product that is allowed for use in drinking water and is completely harmless to non-target organisms and does not affect the growth of rice. It is already used in mosquito control in many countries. The way to use Total Impact over large areas? Drones!
Drones form the perfect solution for two problems with larval control: The difficulties of treating large tracts of land on foot and the high costs of flying helicopters or spray aircraft (generally $ 1000/hour). Efficient in use and affordable: The new options provided by drones.
Thanks to our partner DJI it will be possible to execute this project in Tanzania.
The Agras MG-1S drone van DJI is relatively cheap and can be operated by locally trained staff. It can spray 4-6 thousand square meters within 10 minutes when spraying Total Impact. This is 40-60 times faster than spraying on foot.
Large-scale deployment of drones can boost the prevention of malaria over large areas and may be expanded to include swampy areas, flood plains, and other water bodies. In combination with existing vector control tools (nets and indoor spraying) we hope to contribute to the elimination of malaria in Africa!