On World Malaria Day, Thursday 25 April, Wageningen University will start installing over 4,000 mosquito traps at all the houses on the Kenyan island of Rusinga. It marks the beginning of a four-year campaign to completely eradicate malaria from the island without the use of insecticides. As Rusinga does not have electricity for the mosquito traps, the houses will also be fitted with a locally-produced solar panel, two light fixtures and a charging point for mobile phones. This means that the project also improves living conditions on the island.
“Our ultimate goal is to completely eliminate malaria from Rusinga Island,” says research leader Willem Takken. “But we want to do this in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way. The abundant use of insecticides has led to a high level of insecticide resistance in the malaria mosquitoes, which makes fighting the disease increasingly difficult and harmful to the environment. The latter problem is tackled by our approach as we use natural odorants to which the mosquitoes are attracted. Moreover, it is highly unlikely that the mosquitoes will become ‘resistant’ to this method as they need the attraction of the odorants to survive. Requiring human blood on which to feed, mosquitoes find people by smelling the odorants they expel when sweating.”
Wageningen University, part of Wageningen UR, has long been researching the control of malaria in regions such as Africa. Financed by the COmON Foundation via the Wageningen University Fund, the research is being performed in close cooperation with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya. In previous years, financial support from organisations such as the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH) via the Grand Challenges for Global Health Initiative has helped develop a substance that lures and traps mosquitoes. The low-cost and effective Suna trap was developed in partnership with the German company Biogents AG. The Suna trap was named after the word for mosquito used by the Luo people on Rusinga Island.
A pilot project in eighteen houses showed that the traps are indeed effective, and that the local population is happy to use them. The fact that each house equipped with a Suna trap also receives a solar panel helps in this respect. Rusinga, an island in Lake Victoria, does not have an electricity grid, while the trap requires electricity. The solar panel is installed with a charging point for a mobile phone and two light fixtures. Mobile phones, which are an important communication tool in Africa, are currently charged in outlets on Rusinga which have a generator, such as grocery stores and phone shops. Moreover, reading and studying was only possible during daylight hours. Now that the houses are equipped with electricity, children will also be able to do homework in the evenings. The Wageningen anti-malaria approach therefore benefits the eradication of malaria as well as local living conditions.
From 25 April onwards, local workers will install a Suna trap, a solar panel, two light fixtures and a mobile phone charging point at fifty houses a week. The solar panels were produced in Kenya by Dutch company Ubbink East Africa. All 4,000-plus houses on Rusinga will eventually have their own Wageningen mosquito trap system.