A New Tool in the Battle Against Malaria – Can Drones Defeat Malaria?

For much of the world, the mosquito is simply viewed as a common nuisance. The reality of this insect, however, is far more deadly.

A mosquito bite can carry with it a host of diseases, being responsible for an estimated 700,000 deaths each year. The most devastating of these pathogens by far is malaria. Some scientific estimates have determined that this disease alone has killed half of the people who have ever lived on earth, a number estimated at 52 billion.

The heartbreaking reality of malaria today is that most of the people who die from the disease are young children in Africa. Of the 228 million documented cases of malaria in 2018, 93% of these were in Africa, and a majority of those were children below the age of five.

The tools used to fight malaria have improved over the years, and even simple preventative measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying have saved lives. Unfortunately, it is not enough, and there are still enormous leaps that need to be made. That’s where drones are proving their value in unique and innovative ways.

On a recent visit to Zanzibar, the DJI team joined the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme (ZAMEP) and mosquito control personnel to put drones to work. Using the Agras MG-1S drone, the teams sought to stop the spread of malaria at the source – the stagnant, sunlit water that serves as the breeding ground for mosquitoes. The MG-1S was used to spread an environmentally safe biological control agent on some of the area’s large-scale irrigated rice paddies.

Spraying is exceptionally effective at eliminating mosquitoes, but it’s always been difficult for mosquito control personnel to find efficient ways to spread such agents. Helicopters or airplanes are prohibitively expensive, and spraying by hand is too time-consuming. Drones are able to fill the gap, providing a low-cost, reliable solution to covering wide areas of land quickly.

The results of this experiment speak for themselves. Even up to four weeks after spraying with the MG-1S, the number of newly emerged mosquitoes in these areas remained close to zero. This technology is a game-changer in the fight against malaria, but it’s ultimately up to governments, NGOs, entrepreneurs, and local communities to make their use more widespread.

Reducing the spread of malaria in these areas is vital, not only to the survival of individuals, but the future of the African continent. When more people stay healthy, they are able to thrive and ensure their communities thrive as well.

The results of this pilot trial are currently being prepared for publication in a scientific journal.

Special thanks to Guido Welter, Dr. Bart Knols and Prof. Richard Mukabana from the Anti-Malaria drone team for pioneering this idea and helping to make it a reality. To learn more about their mission and approach visit: https://www.antimalariadrones.com.



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