A groundbreaking study made by Durham University has found that a new type of bed net has the potential to prevent millions of cases of malaria. The research, published in The Lancet, revealed that following a two year clinical trial in West Africa involving 2,000 children, malaria cases were cut by 12 per cent when people used the new bednet design.

The study was made in a unique collaboration between scientists at Durham University, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and colleagues in Switzerland and Burkina Faso. The scientists also discovered that through the use of bednets, children were 52 per cent less likely to ‘become moderately anaemic’. Malaria-induced anaemia is one of the major causes of death for children under 2 years old.

Growing Resistance

Traditional mosquito nets are treated with the insecticide pyrethroid, designed to repel and kill mosquitoes. However, blood-seeking Mosquitoes such as the female Anopheles species are becoming increasingly resistant to pyrethroids; a growing issue in Sub-Saharan Africa with potentially devastating effects.

Latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that, following a significant decrease in malaria deaths since 2000, progress has stalled with the number of people infected with malaria even rising in some areas. Insecticide-resistant vectors are one of the possible causes.

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Similar to treatments for Tuberculosis, which uses a combination of drugs, scientists say that ‘it is less likely for mosquitoes to become resistant to both chemicals in the combination bed nets.’ The new bed nets use a unique combination of the common pyrethroid insecticide and pyriproxyfen; a drug designed to interfere with the way that mosquitoes reproduce along with shortening their lives.

The trial was held in the West African country of Burkina Faso | Image: Human Rights Watch

In combination, these drugs on the nets are found to kill more mosquitoes and reduce the number of infective bites compared to the conventional nets treated only with pyrethroid. It is much less likely that mosquitoes will become resistant to both chemicals in the bed, thus making them a better alternative in areas where mosquitoes have become particularly resistant.

Professor Steve Lindsay, from Durham University, explained that:

This study is important because malaria control in sub-Saharan Africa has stalled, partly because the mosquitoes are adapting and becoming resistant to the pyrethroid insecticides used for treating the old bed nets.

The randomly selected children were visited at home four times and examined clinically for signs of illness. The results were overwhelmingly positive and exciting for a first test. Principal investigator Dr Alfred Tiono said that “if deployed correctly, we could certainly prevent millions of cases and deaths of malaria|

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