Drones tested to kill mosquitoes in Zanzibar as malaria elimination remains elusive

Zanzibar. State University of Zanzibar, in collaboration with a Chinese manufacturer; DJI Agrasare testing drones to fight malaria in the Indian Ocean Island of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania.
Zanzibar, with a population of around 1.2 million people, has made significant progress in the malaria fight. It is working to surmount the barriers preventing it from ending the disease.

Aquatain, a liquid gel is being sprayed in malaria hotspotson rice paddies, wheremalaria-carrying mosquitoes lay eggs in pools ofstagnant water.

Current studies show malaria elimination on the Isles has remained elusive, despite high coverage with essential malaria control strategies, such as the use of insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) and indoor spraying.

The drone is efficient because spraying by hand is very time consuming and using a helicopter is too expensive, said Eduardo Rodriguez of DJI, a Chinese drone manufacturer, as quoted by Associated Press.

Using drones to spray across water to prevent the eggs from hatching, experts are testing to see if the initiative could help Zanzibar to attain its goal of eliminating the diseaseby 2023.

The outdoor spray using drones, which is expected to cut down the number of malaria-carrying mosquitoes also aims to support the efforts of the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Program (ZAMEP).

The drone spraying is a relatively inexpensive way to stop the mosquitoes from reproducing, said Bart Knols, a medical entomologist and lead researcher of the program, as quoted by the Associated Press (AP).

“We are getting to the bottom of it as we will spray the breeding grounds of mosquitoes,” said Knols, who is with the Dutch Malaria Foundation.

The liquid gel will be sprayed over a section of water and kill mosquitoes’ larvae, said Knols. The substance has been tested internationally and has been found to be harmless to non-target organisms, non-toxic and biodegradable.

According to AP, in the initial test, in the Cheju area of southern Zanzibar, the drone flew over and sprayed the shallow, sunlit water bodies in the rice paddies teeming with mosquito larvae, which were trapped as the gel spread across the water.

Without the gel, the larvae would have emerged as adult mosquitoes in search of a blood meal. When those mosquitoes bite humans infected with malaria, they become vectors for the disease and continue its deadly transmission cycle.

“The ultimate vision of our fight against malaria is to bring malaria down to zero in year 2023 as our target,“said Abdullah Suleiman Ali, manager of the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Program.