Talk about “buzzkill.” On April 25, World Malaria Day, Wageningen University—a Dutch learning institution and research campus devoted to “healthy food and the living environment”—began what will be a four-year campaign to install more than 4,000 mosquito traps powered by solar energy at homes on the island of Rusinga in Lake Victoria, Kenya.
The research team working on the Solarmal Project, led by Professor Willem Takken of the Laboratory for Entomology at the university, intends to completely eradicate malaria from the island without the use of insecticides. As Rusinga does not have electricity for the mosquito traps, each of the houses is being fitted with a locally produced rooftop solar panel—made by the Dutch company, Ubbink East Africa —as well as two light fixtures and a charging point for mobile phones. This means that the project also is improving general living conditions on the island.
The researchers are working at a rate of 50 homes per week. Rusinga has been chosen for the research project because the island is sufficiently isolated to limit outside influence. The researchers are placing traps containing “human odor” to attract the malaria mosquitoes away from the houses of the local population. Once they have entered the traps, the mosquitoes will die of dehydration.
Installing a mosquito trap at a house on the island of Rusinga in Kenya. (Photo courtesy of Wageningen University.)
“We want to do this in an environmentally-friendly and sustainable way,” explained Takken, adding, “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 [aroma compounds] 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 has long been researching the control of malaria in many regions, including 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 Nairobi, Kenya. In previous years, financial support from organizations such as the Foundation for the U.S. 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 Regensburg, Germany-based 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 18 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 and a mobile charger helps to attract participation. To date, mobile phones, which are an important communication tool in Africa, had been charged only at outlets on Rusinga that have a generator, such as those at grocery stores and phone shops. Moreover, reading and studying was only possible during daylight hours. Now that the houses are equipped with electricity, there will be light for a variety of activities that the healthier population can enjoy in the evenings.
Edited by Rachel Ramsey