Drones deployed in Malawi in the fight against malaria

Nestled between much larger neighbors in southeast Africa, Malawi – one of the world’s poorest countries – has one of the highest malaria rates in the world.

According to the World Health Organization’s latest malaria report, the incidence actually increased in 2020; cases fell from 3.8 million in 2019 to 4.3 million (the country’s total population is around 19 million) while deaths fell from 6,850 to 7,165.

Experts say the overburdened health system means people often die of diseases like malaria before they have access to medical care, while the pandemic has further disrupted health services. Reducing transmission potential is therefore seen as an essential part of the country’s fight against malaria.

In collaboration with the African Drone Academy and the Malawi-Liverpool-Wellcome Trust (MLW), researchers set out to track mosquito habitats in Malawi’s central Kasungu district, which has a large number of dams and reservoirs that support insect breeding sites during the dry season. .

Highly targeted malaria interventions

In a pilot study, researchers mapped potential larval habitats in a 10 square km area, with drones deployed to take detailed photos of the area from an altitude of around 120 m.

The researchers then used GPS to visit key water bodies and conduct larval sampling, to help identify optimal sites for mosquito breeding. They then tracked household exposure potential, allowing malaria disruption efforts to be highly targeted.

“We hope that our results can provide evidence of how malaria risk is affected by these small dams and other smallholder activities such as the creation of irrigation wells,” said Kennedy Zembere, assistant to research at MLW.

“Modifying water bodies to make [them] less suitable for mosquitoes is also the best way to control mosquitoes at the start of their growth,” he added. “This can include draining water bodies if they are small enough, or treating them with larvicides or chemicals that kill larvae if water bodies are too large to drain.”

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