Malaria is an intermittent and remittent ailment caused by a protozoan parasite that attacks the body’s red blood cells. Transmissible by mosquitoes in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, the disease affects over 200 million people each year, killing roughly 500,000. The archipelago of Zanzibar is situated off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa, and both regions have an extensive history of battling the disease.
As part of a larger effort throughout Sub-Saharan Africa to contain and mitigate the spread of malaria, researchers from Aberyswyth University in Wales are working with the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Program and the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals to raise awareness, identify mosquito breeding habitats, and distribute counteragents (like bed nets and insecticide) across communities. The key is for public health authorities to locate and map water bodies (ideally shallow, stagnant, and sunlit), which are ideal habitats for mosquitos to mate and lay their eggs.
These mosquito lairs can be challenging to locate (especially on foot), which is where drones factor into the equation. Drone imagery can capture large swaths of land, which help develop detailed and accurate maps of potential mosquito habitats. A drone can survey a 30-hectacre rice paddy in 20 minutes, whose imagery is then processed and analyzed that same day to scope out water bodies potentially harboring mosquito larvae. The process has been highly accurate, efficient, and uses one of the most popular off-the-shelf drone models- the Phantom 3 (developed by DJI). This particular model is roughly the size of a shoebox, weighs about 1.2 kg, and is used across the globe for leisure and commercial purposes.
Once these water bodies are located, they’re treated using larvicide like DDT in a process known as larval source management. Similar operations were successfully conducted in Brazil and Italy, however the counteragents used had notable effects on the region’s ecology, along with people’s health. The efforts in Tanzania and Zanzibar have been successful, with some areas of the archipelago seeing prevalence levels drop from 40 percent, to less than one percent of the mosquito populations.
Aberyswyth researchers started working in test locations throughout Zanzibar (with support from the Innovative Vector Control Consortium) with hopes of further widening their range of exploring how this technology can be incorporated into operational malaria eliminating activities. The plan is to further integrate drone imagery into smartphone technology for guiding larvicide spraying teams to water bodies (on foot), while tracking their progress and coverage. The success of these operations has also prompted researchers to look into eventually deploying larvicide from the drones themselves, especially in areas that spray teams can’t necessarily or directly access on foot.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)