Malaria remains the most important of all tropical disease, with the highest prevalence and most debilitating effects. Nearly half the world's population, over 2.5 billion people, live at risk of the disease, and over 300 million new cases occur every year, mostly among children. Africa is the worst affected region, with between 1 and 2 million deaths annually. Malaria is caused by a blood parasite transmitted by many species of mosquito. Ecological and environment changes including the proliferation of water resources (breeding grounds for mosquitos), have exacerbated the problem of global malaria.
An experimental vaccine being developed in Colombia is showing good results in reducing the number of attacks among children. But it does not prevent the disease. Drugs derived from artemisisin, first extracted from a herb in China, show promise against drug resistant severe malaria, but there is little experience with its use outside China. European trials are being conducted. Halofantrine, another new anti-malarial, was registered in 1988 but its use in malaria control is yet to be determined. In 1994, SPf66 was tested in Gambia and was useless.
In 1995, the mechanism whereby Plasmodium falciparum outwits the body's immune system was uncovered.
Researchers at the National Institute of Medical Research in Muteza, Tanzania, are exploring an affordable alternative to the conventional solutions for malaria control: insecticide spraying for mosquito control; antimalarial drugs as a prophylactic or curative intervention; bed nets. The drawbacks of these methods are: 1) Insecticides and antimalarial drugs are expensive and foreign currency is required for importation; 2) Insecticide spraying can cause serious environmental contamination with effects on non target organisms, including humans; 3) Resistance by mosquitoes to insecticides and by the parasite to antimalarial drugs is becoming widespread; 4) Bed nets are often too costly.
The study explores the use of old sacking material to fabricate bed curtains that can be treated with the same insecticide used on the bed nets. It is known that treated bed nets with holes in them perform as well as intact nets; therefore, these curtains will likely be effective. The key issue in this study is that of empowerment: empowering people to protect themselves and their families against a grave environmental health risk. This approach integrates villagers in the process of controlling malaria with local resources. Furthermore, the approach is sound in the context of environmental management. It is an elegant, practical, and innovative use of material that would otherwise be disposed of and increase the environmental problem of solid wastes.