EAST AFRICA – New technology involving a smartphone app that pairs an algorithm with a drone and satellite data using geospatial artificial intelligence has been found to be effective in identifying locations of previously unknown mosquito breeding habitats in East Africa.
University of South Florida public health researcher Benjamin Jacob developed the latest ‘Seek and Destroy’ technology that could help insect control agencies to monitor real time, map and eradicate the malaria vectors and larvae in the fight against malaria.
Malaria is spread across borders by movement of both mosquitoes and persons infected with the parasite hence the need to tackle the disease at a regional level since country efforts have not produced the desired outcome.
East African Community (EAC) countries namely Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania contribute a significant proportion of malaria burden worldwide.
For instance, the EAC region contributed 24.7% of all reported malaria cases worldwide and 10.2% of deaths due to malaria in the world in 2017.
Subsequently, the Seek and Destroy programme is currently in trial in Uganda and will be expanded to infectious areas in Kenya and Rwanda to help experts in identifying locations of previously unknown mosquito breeding habitats and treat the areas within the same day.
The latest technology will allow governments to quickly and efficiently direct resources to vulnerable areas before disease outbreaks can occur as well as aid in mapping malaria risk and disease control interventions.
It works by locating specific environments and organisms by their unique “fingerprint”, mapping and assigning a red-green-blue value associated exclusively with a species or habitat. Each image is then processed and gridded with identified sources of water on those surfaces.
Under the large trial in Uganda, a low-cost drone was employed for eco-geographically locating, water bodies including natural water bodies, irrigated rice paddies, cultivated swamps and other geo-locations which are among the common breeding sites for Anopheles mosquitoes in Gulu District.
“Jacob discovered that each of the 120 homes he studied was infested with at least 200 mosquitoes. With the help of the local insect control officers he trained, Jacob destroyed 100 percent of identified habitats in 31 days,” states the American Journal of Entomology.
Moreover, a new insecticide chlorfenapyr has been found to be effective in killing female anopheles mosquitoes when used on mosquito nets alongside traditional chemicals pyrethroids.
The insecticide was subjected to a large trial in Tanzania involving 39,000 Tanzanian households with over 4,500 children aged six months to 14 years.
Under the study, the mosquito net was loaded with Chlorfenapyr, the first new class of insecticide approved to fight malaria in 40 years, and pyrethroids which are commonly used to coat traditional mosquito nets.
The study found out that lacing bed nets with a combination of chlorfenapyr and pyrethroid significantly reduces malaria incidence including in regions where insecticide resistance is widespread.
The rollout of insecticide-treated bed nets has been central in efforts to reduce the spread of malaria which remains one of the world’s deadliest infectious diseases.
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