A SolarMal device on Rusinga Island (Photo: Siempre Verde)
In 2010, an estimated 660,000 people, most of them children in Africa, died as a result of malaria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). People generally contract the disease through mosquito bites, and malaria prevention often focuses on insecticide to kill the bugs. But over time, mosquito populations can become immune to the poisons, causing their numbers to increase.
An alternative, solar-powered solution to the mosquito problem is currently being tested on Rusinga Island, in Western Kenya. It's a device called SolarMal, which includes a solar-powered fan and mosquito zapper, as well as nylon strips with artificial human scent, to draw in mosquitoes and kill them.
So far, the device, which was invented by Kenyan and Dutch researchers, has been distributed to 470 homes. Early results have been promising: Dr. Shanaz Sharif, Kenya's director of public health, says the device could help "reduce the burden of public spending toward treating malaria, which is about $100 million a year."
Some residents of Rusinga Island, where 220,000 people live, told Trust.org that they believe the devices are helping protect them from malaria.
Phylis Oduol said in a phone interview that she and her children have been bitten less frequently since SolarMal was installed in her home, and Peter Otieno said using the device means “we do not have to go through all the trouble of using insecticide treated nets on our beds in this hot weather.”
Hospital records from the island also show a decline in the number of malaria cases since the experiment began.
"Malaria cases have gone down based on hospital records in Rusinga Island," Sharif said. He did point out that the reduction hasn't been large: "it's just a slight margin."
In addition to its anti-mosquito features, SolarMal provides enough electricity for two lightbulbs and a charging point for mobile phones. The backers of the device hope to begin selling it commercially within the next year.