By Anne Gulland
Researchers at Aberystwyth University are working with epidemiologists and public health specialists in Zanzibar, using drones to map the standing water which is home to mosquito larvae. Drones can survey a large area relatively quickly – just 20 minutes for a 30-hectare rice paddy – enabling people to go out and spray the pools of water, killing the larvae before they develop into adult mosquitoes.
Makame Makame from the Zanzibar Malaria Elimination Programme holds one of the drones used to map malaria vectors. (Credit: Andy Hardy)
Andy Hardy, one of the researchers on the project, says drones can give much quicker and more precise readings than traditionally-used satellite imaging.
“If you want to go out and spray the larvae tomorrow you need an image today. With satellite imaging you would need to wait weeks.
“We need to know down to the very metre where the water beds are. You can’t rely on the satellite imagery because there might be cloud cover. Drones give you complete flexibility in a very dynamic landscape,” he says.
But while hi-tech solutions are welcome, political will and funding are also urgently needed. According to WHO, the amount of funding for the disease has gone down in the 34 countries worst affected by malaria. In 2016 $2.7bn was invested in the fight against the disease – but this is only 41 per cent of what WHO says is needed to achieve its goals.
Dr Alonso hopes the Commonwealth meeting will be a catalyst for all countries.
He said: “Malaria remains one of the big killers of the world and is a major impediment to social and economic development. We have to eradicate it – it’s time to tick that box.”
James Whiting, executive director of charity Malaria No More, hopes that as well as funding, a renewed commitment from the Commonwealth will also bring new ideas and impetus to the research and development space, enabling projects, such as Aberystwyth University’s drone surveys, to be rolled out across malaria-endemic countries.
He also highlighted the economic and social toll of malaria – people are unable to work and children miss school because of the disease .
And, crucially, this is not just about the Commonwealth, added Mr Whiting.
“We’re hoping that this is a beginning of a tidal wave across the world to re-energise and reignite the malaria campaign,” he said.