SPECIAL REPORT : How Ifakara Research Institute pioneers anti-malaria innovation

Participants of the innovation week held between May 22 and May 26. PHOTO| ERICKY BONIPHACE

What you need to know:

  • In the event that took place at the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) premises in the city the young innovators also attended workshops, shared experiences and skills in well prepared sessions and they also had time to network. The attendees included students and technology experts from both within and outside the country.

Dar es Salaam. Stakeholders from the technology sector recently came together for the Innovation Week and showcased their talents through the innovations.

In the event that took place at the Commission for Science and Technology (Costech) premises in the city the young innovators also attended workshops, shared experiences and skills in well prepared sessions and they also had time to network. The attendees included students and technology experts from both within and outside the country.

The director general for Costech Dr Hassan Mshinda said the innovation week was aimed at increasing the use of technology and innovations in improving the sectors of education, health, water and environmental cleanness.

Among other varieties of innovations showcased there were technologies related to reduction of malaria infection and reducing deaths, maternal health related remedies, drones technologies, entrepreneurial ideas challenge by university students and so on.

Some of the innovations that stood out during the week include the non-pneumatic anti-shock garment technology that seeks to reduce side effects of bleeding; Eave tubes technology that attract and kill female Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit malaria; and the transfluthrin-treated sandals that repelling mosquitoes from biting human body.

Dr Mshinda said improvement of science, technology and innovations is crucial for Tanzania in its journey towards an industrialised economy. This then puts responsibility to the government to invest richly in science and technology and ensure that such innovations are used for production and productivity of different sectors of economy.

The transfluthrin-treated sandals

The Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) has invented a new technology of repelling mosquitoes from biting human body through sandals which are designed by materials covered by mosquitoe repellant chemicals.

The innovation is currently on the stage of trials in the Kilombero District. Testing the sandals will take place within two years to assess the quality. If successful the innovation would reduce up to 80 per cent of malaria infection.

The transfluthrin-treated sandals are for protection against mosquito-borne infections that cause diseases like malaria, yellow fever, zika and dengue.

According to a research scientist from IHI Lina Finda the sandals are designed to protect the whole body of a person wearing them and people located within six meters. Other mosquito repellants only hound the insects in the parts of the body where the repellant is applied.

“The innovation aims at preventing mosquito bites throughout the day to compliment mosquito nets that protect people during the night. Infections such as yellow fever, zika and others come from mosquito bites during the day,” she explained.

According to information posted on the IhI website day-biting aedes mosquitoes, which transmit most of the arboviral infections that the world is least prepared to combat for such as Zika, Dengue, Yellow fever and Chikungunya, are largely non-responsive to ‘Long Lasting Insecticide Net’ (LLINs) and Indoor Residual spray (IRS).

Moreover, no vaccines and no reliable diagnostics for field use are available for many of these arboviruses, and therefore mosquito control remains the main intervention. Yet, the aquatic habitats of these mosquitoes are often small, scattered, cryptic, temporary and sometimes indoors, hence difficulty of larval source management.

The feet and ankle biting Aedes mosquitoes, which transmit most of the arboviral infections that the world is least prepared to combat, are largely nonresponsive to long lasting insecticide treated nets and indoor residual sprays. As a result, people need to consistently apply repellent, or risk potential infection.

These sandals release highly effective, wide area spatial mosquito repellents, creating full time protection against both day biting and night biting mosquitoes at individual and household level.

The low cost sandals provide round the clock protection against Dengue, Zika, Chikungunya and Malaria using hessian strips impregnated with off patent but highly effective and safe repellent, transfluthrin.

The sandals can provide protection to the feet and ankles for up to six months. This approach will increase protective coverage and access to the lowest income households.

Eave Tubes Technology

IhI has also created insecticide-laden tubes, known as “Eave Tubes,” that attract and kill female Anopheles mosquitoes that transmit malaria.

The tubes, locally referred to as ‘tungulizi bomba’, are placed in common mosquito pathways, such as windows, roofs, doors, and attics.

Many Tanzanians, including medical doctors and business people, have welcomed the new technology, saying it will help eradicate insecticide-resistant mosquitoes and protect households from malaria.

The project was aimed at developing low-cost and user-friendly mosquito contamination devices (MCDs) that can effectively lure, infect and contaminate malaria mosquitoes in realistic tropical settings.

A suite of technologies prototype technologies were generated in the course of the project: Eave Tubes, Smart Patch, Powder binding Electrostatic coating, and Outdoor Host seeking Device.

Above all, 1800 local houses within Kilombero Valley were installed with Eave Tubes

According to the latest estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 214 million new cases of malaria worldwide in 2015.

Africa accounted for most global cases of malaria by 88 per cent, followed by the South East Asia Region by 10 per cent and the Eastern Mediterranean Region two per cent.

However Tanzania has been applauded for decreasing its rates of malaria infections and mortality rates starting with a remarkable improvement in Zanzibar and Kagera. According to the United States President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) report, Tanzania reduced malaria deaths among children under the age of five years by 28 per cent since 2004, but some of the regions achieved more than others.

The report says in Zanzibar, where malaria control projects were initiated since 2006, the prevalence of malaria dropped from 25 to less than one per cent.

In Kagera Region, the report says, the prevalence dropped from 41 per cent in 2007 to nine per cent in 2011 and adds that the infant and maternal mortality rates decreased by 25 per cent and 20 per cent respectively over the same period.

As the PMI’s Vector Control Scale-up Project ends its programmes this year, it boasts of having helped to protect up to 8.5 million people from malaria annually over the past one decade.

Non-pneumatic anti-shock garment technology

Another innovation was mentioned in the innovation week to be a non-pneumatic anti-shock garment (NASG). It is mentioned as a low technology compression device, which, when placed around the lower body of a woman with obstetric hemorrhage, will decrease bleeding, reverse shock, and buy the woman time until she can reach definitive care. The NASG, often referred to as Life-Wrap, is a relatively low cost tool for saving lives. Another contributor to maternal death from hemorrhage is problems with communications, the Closed User Group Emergency Phone (CUG) is another innovation, and was used to enhance emergency communications.

According to information posted at the IhI website this follows peer-reviewed publication of evidence from various studies including results from studies conducted at tertiary level facilities in Nigeria, Egypt, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and India which showed a 50 per cent decrease in maternal deaths from hemorrhage, markedly reduced blood loss, and much faster recovery from shock.

Data from 3,651 women were examined in a pooled analysis and showed a 59 per cent significantly reduced odds of mortality among the women with the most severe shock.

A recent randomized cluster trial of NASG application at primary health care centers before women in shock were transported to tertiary level facilities, showed similar decreases in mortality and faster shock recovery.

University Students Entrepreneurship Challenge

Three university students won capital from the Barclays Bank to implement their business ideas that they had pitched under this year’s University Students Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The Challenge went through a series of interviews and filtering best ideas from about 700 ideas of entrepreneurship to top ten in which three of the candidates won.

The first winner Ritchie Raphael, 24, a fourth year student at the University of Dar es Salaam taking Bachelor of Science with Computer Science won Sh2 million. His idea was on pig farming.

His idea was to develop a pork processing plant that aims at improving agricultural processing and livelihoods of the local pig farmers in the country by slaughtering and processing the animals to a quality level hence produce best pork products for both the local and international markets.

The idea will be executed under his company named Africa Harvest Enterprises (T) Limited. He says he conducted market research in several hotels, restaurants and local pig farmers and discovered a great demand of quality pork.

He believes the challenge in Tanzania on the pig farming is lack of proper marketing channels, most of the farmers simply rely on middlemen or brokers to buy their pigs.

These middlemen buy and sell pork to businesses in the big cities. However both middlemen as well as farmers have no business in processing pigs to a quality level that includes proper stunning, bleeding, scalding, dehairing, singeing, evisceration, dressing, cutting, storage and proper transportation.

Mr Raphael lastly calls upon fellow young people to discover their passions and use them to uplift their personal and national economic levels at large.

“Entrepreneurship is not an alternative thing that you need to do because you couldn’t secure a job, it is what can be used to transforming thinking and attitudes for economic transformation,” he added.