A mosquito-repellent body lotion, which provides at least six hours of complete protection, could be the missing link in malaria prevention tools, its creators say.
It is hoped that the lotion, developed by an engineer from Burkina Faso, will be a popular preventive tool as it fits seamlessly into people's daily routine.
Roughly 435,000 people still die from malaria each year, but the battle against the disease is stalling. According to the World Health Organization, the number of cases reported worldwide rose by three million in 2017, to a total of 219 million.
This increase is partly due to rising resistance to the insecticides used in bednets. But experts have also observed a shift in mosquito habits, with the insects biting earlier in the evening before people are indoors and protected by nets.
The mosquito-repellent lotion, Maïa, could fill this gap in protection - while also tapping into existing human behaviour in much of Africa.
“In the community people spend a lot of time outside before they go to sleep, so they are exposed,” Gérard Niyondiko, co-founder and general manager of Maïa, told The Telegraph.
“But women have a daily routine where they clean their body and their children in the early evening, and then they put an ointment on their skin.”
“So the community can use our long-lasting repellent ointment without changing their habits. The idea is not to replace other tools people use, but to find complementary tools, which will protect the most vulnerable people – mainly women and children – at the right time,” he added.
Mr Niyondiko is one of 30 finalists of the WHO Innovation Challenge - which saw more than 2,400 entries - and showcased his work at the Africa Health Forum in Cape Verde.
“There is a wealth of innovators in Africa, brilliant African innovators,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, director of WHO Africa, said at the conference.
“What I think is best about these innovators is that they have grown up in our systems, they know the bottlenecks… they really know the solutions and appropriate interventions," she said.
Maïa is Mr Niyondiko’s brainchild, an idea he developed while doing a masters in engineering in Burkina Faso.
“When I was a kid I had many times in hospital because of malaria, and I lost people in my family [due to the disease],” he said. “So I decided to do something to help my community.”
Mr Niyondiko’s team have partnered with a regional cosmetics manufacturer to keep the price down. The lotion, which is a combination of shea butter and DEET insect repellent, costs around £1.70 for a 200ml tub.
While it is slightly more expensive than traditional moisturisers, Maïa is cheaper than repellent sprays. These are rarely used in poor communities because they are an additional cost and do not fit into people’s daily habits.
“We have had many conversations with women and they know that when their children get malaria, they spend a lot of money treating them and lose a lot of income,” said Mr Niyondiko.
“So they are ready to spend around 20 per cent more on ointment for the benefit of both healthcare and protection against mosquitoes," he added.
In laboratory testing, the lotion provided six hours of complete protection against Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes and three hours protection against Aedes mosquitoes, which spread dengue, Zika and chikungunya. The team plan to conduct field studies in Burkina Faso and Tanzania with the aim of gaining WHO accreditation as a vector control tool.
But Maïa is already on the market, with women’s microfinancing groups selling the product ahead of the coming rainy season in Burkina Faso.
“Our belief is that involving women is the key to eradicating this disease from our communities in sub-Saharan Africa,” Mr Niyondiko said. “We want to work with women’s microfinancing groups because they will sell our products, so will protect their families and the community.
“But with the sales of the products they will also leverage their own income and independence,” he added.
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