Drones deployed in the fight against malaria


Scientists seeking a breakthrough in the fight against malaria used drones to spray rice fields in Zanzibar – not with traditional pesticides but with a thin, non-toxic film.

The fields are typical breeding grounds for the anopheles mosquito – the type that transmits malaria, which the UN says kills a young child every minute and causes 75% of all under five deaths.

Ninety percent of all cases occur in Sub-Saharan Africa according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Researchers, led by Bart Knols from Radboud University in The Netherlands, plan to sample larvae and mosquitoes in the fields before, during and after spraying with silicone-based liquid, Aquatain AMF, to test its impact.

Malawi used drones to map mosquito breeding sites but the Zanzibar researchers say preventing pupae and larvae from attaching themselves to the surface of the water takes the malaria fight to the next level.

“Controlling them at source we hope to impact ultimately on transmission of malaria,” Knols said.

He and fellow researchers chose Tanzania’s Zanzibar archipelago for the pilot partly due to its progressive laws on the use of drones for research.

“It is difficult to walk through paddies and apply chemicals, you want to have something that can just spray it on the water surface. It spreads, does the job and that’s it,” said researcher Wolfgang Richard Mukabana from the University of Nairobi.

After the trial in Zanzibar, they aim to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals and hope to expand the approach across the continent.

The liquid is made by Australian company Aquatain Products, which says it is highly permeable to gases and does not prevent water from being oxygenated.