The days are numbered for mosquitoes which transmit malaria, if the latest from scientists is anything to go by. Scientists at the Ifakara Health Institute and partner institutions have developed insecticide- laden Eave Tubes known as ‘Tungulizibomba’ that attract and kill mosquitoes .
The local innovation is based on a simple behavior of female Anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria. Anopheles mosquitoes chase human odour, then land on people and bite them. If the insect has malaria parasites already, the parasites are transmitted to the person who is bitten.
In houses with eave tubes, mosquitoes chasing odour find the tubes as appropriate passage to enter, since much of the odour from people sleeping inside is channeled through these tubes.
In the process, the mosquitoes get in contact with insecticide treated netting and meet their end there. Diana Robert, a form fourfinalist from Ukonga Madafu, suffered a malaria bout recently. She is excited by the discovery.
“It is a great achievement because many house designs have eaves (openings between the wall and the roof) that allow mosquitoes into the house. Once this thing (technology) becomes popular, mosquitoes will die up there in the tubes.”
The Eave Tube technology borrows its name from the openings between the walls and roofs. Cost, dodging insects and popularization of the innovation are Diana’s immediate worries.
“The tubes might be costly; consider also straying mosquitoes entering the house using other openings and the tubes might not be popularised quick enough to reach as many households as one would expect,” Diana says, adding that in Tanzania many houses have quite large eaves allowing many mosquitoes to enter houses and bite people.
Her family has not lost a member to malaria, but she adds: “We frequently suffer from the disease,” she laments. Nelson Magara, a Marketing practitioner, describes the innovation as a welcome ‘participant’ in the health sector.
“It is good news. We have a new useful entrant in the sector, because malaria is often described as number one killer of our people in Tanzania and sub-Saharan Africa.” However, Magara has his fears.
Tanzania, he believes, does not have an all-embracing culture to “take research and innovations off the shelves.” He argues that research and innovations that do not reach the people “make little or no sense to society”. Magara says the government, parastatals, development partners should support the Ifakara Health Institute initiative to make a difference.
“We now have a popular slogan of “walk the talk” (President Magufuli’s slogan of ‘hapa kazi tu’). We would better now rise above talking and support such innovations to demonstrate our hate of malaria.”
Dr Ladslaus Mnyone, the lead Tanzanian innovator in the development of the technology, explains that eave tubes are simple 6-inch-diameter plastic pipes that are fitted in walls underneath the roof of a house at 1-1.5 m intervals (8-10 per house, in average).
He says that the eave tube technology uses very small amount of insecticides and netting materials, effectively kills insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and protects the entire household.
In that view, the technology is seemingly cheaper than several of the existing technologies. According to the innovator, “over 80 per cent of malaria-spreading mosquitoes enter houses through eaves in response to human smell.
” Noel Muta, a secretary, admires the innovation but she is skeptical. “Mosquitoes will die in tube — not all of them. A sizeable number will fly in using doors and windows. You need a bed-net.”
The same concern is shared by the Chairman of St Filomena Nursery School in Temeke, Dar es Salaam, Mwalimu Leonardina Alphonce, who says the battle against malaria is not a laughing matter.
“Certainly this is a viable option in the battle. But we must ask ourselves: what can we do; what do we need to do now; when do we have to close the doors and windows? Do we still have to use nets and mosquito wire mesh?” “Answering honestly such questions will make Tanzanians walk away from schemes that do not work,” she says.
The scientist does not dispute worries of members of the public. “Compared to bed nets this coating results in much better exposure because transfer of insecticide particles from the coating to the mosquito is much enhanced to the extent that even the resistant mosquitoes are killed,” Mnyone notes.
The EMAJA Executive Secretary Imelda Byarugaba is guarded in saying the Ifakara initiative is likely to take off the ground. “You can see the light at the end of the tunnel because Tanzania is not the same as the one we had 20 years ago.
The middle class is swelling; it builds houses according to specifications, and their houses would include eave tubes.” EMAJA is a Dar es Salaam-based nongovernmental organization with years of experience in working with underserved grassroots people.
To popularise the initiative, Ifakara could do itself a big service by working with existing groups of young people like bodaboda groups, or associations of taxi drivers, truck drivers and daladala drivers.
The secretary says the project must encourage use mosquito nets, because “it is pro-Ifakara initiative. Using nets adds-on to the efforts of our scientists. But Ifakara will have to use the media, NGOs, the private sector to put the initiative to the public conscience.” Dr Mnyone says that this is one of the objectives of IHI’s on-going project funded by the Human Innovation Development Fund (HDIF).
She remarks: “I am not sure if we, as a nation, have truly recognised the role of malaria in increasing the health bills and deaths. Mobilisation and organization of people to fight the disease is far less than what it should be and they do not correspond with the danger posed by malaria.
” Founder Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA) former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete was quoted by the “Daily News” early this month as saying innovations are helping eliminate malaria: “Technology and innovation are playing a key role in the malaria fight… there is research underway for other innovations such as single-dose pill that could rid a person of all parasites or even block malaria transmission — and other exciting innovations in vector control that could accelerate our path to elimination.”
Answering a questioner, who wanted to know if progress was being made in the fight against malaria, Kikwete said there had been tremendous. “… Since 2000, 60 percent reduction in the rate of deaths from malaria has resulted in saving an estimated 6.2 million lives.
In the same timeframe, malaria mortality rates in Africa have fallen by 66 percent in all age groups and 71 percent among children under five years.
“The World Health Organisation (WHO), through modeling, projects that the United Republic of Tanzania will have reduced malaria incidence by 50 to 75 percent between 2000 and 2015. Yes, we are making excellent progress.
If Ifakara Institute were to buy suggestions of those outside research rooms, perhaps “excellent progress” would be felt at family level and days of female anopheles mosquitoes would be truly numbered.
Emmanuel Rubagumya is a freelance journalist based in Dar es Salaam.