Geographies in Depth

Could this invention wash away Africa's malaria threat?

A herder stands with his cattle over the plains of Ethiopia's remote Somali region, outside the regional capital of Jijiga April 19, 2007. Gunmen killed 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese in their sleep on Tuesday in a pre-dawn raid on an oil field near Jijiga, 630 km (390 miles) east of the capital Addis Ababa, that Ethiopia blamed on rebels backed by regional foe Eritrea. Picture taken on April 19, 2007. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens (ETHIOPIA) - RTR1OZSU

Most malaria related deaths happen in sub-Saharan Africa. Image: REUTERS/Andrew Heavens

Kieran Guilbert
Reporter, Reuters
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Two former students from Burkina Faso have designed a mosquito-repellent soap, which they hope could be a simple and affordable solution in the fight to end malaria, but more funds are needed to test the idea, according to the startup behind it.

Moctar Dembélé and Gérard Niyondiko, the brains behind Faso Soap, were awarded a $25,000 prize for their invention in 2013 when they became the first African winners of the Global Social Venture Competition at the University of California Berkeley.

Yet Faso Soap must be tested to ensure it is safe for human use and effective at preventing malaria before it can be mass produced by soap manufacturers in Africa, said Franck Langevin, campaigns director for the Ouagadougou-based startup.

The soap, created from natural oils and plants, could prove successful in preventing malaria as it would be cheap and rely on existing habits of African households, Langevin said.

"People in Africa are very reluctant to change their habits, but soap is present in most homes, and is used for bathing, cleaning the house and washing clothes," he said.

The soap is designed to repel mosquitoes up to six hours after being applied, and once soapy water is thrown away on the street, hinder the insects from breeding in stagnant water.

"It is a simple and affordable weapon in the fight against malaria," Langevin told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Last month, Faso Soap launched a crowdfunding appeal for $113,000 to finalise the development of the soap with the aim of distributing it in six African countries hardest-hit by malaria by 2018, working with soap manufacturers and aid agencies.

Last year, there were 214 million cases of malaria worldwide with the mosquito-borne disease killing 438,000 people, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Jo Lines, reader of malaria control and vector biology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, praised the idea behind the soap, but said it would be dangerous to rely on an untested product to protect against malaria.

As a social startup, Langevin said Faso Soap has struggled to attract funding from donors, including the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations children's agency (UNICEF), prompting the inventors to turn to crowdfunding.

World leaders committed to ending malaria by 2030 when they adopted the Sustainable Development Goals last year.

Europe last month became the first region to be declared malaria-free after reporting no indigenous cases in 2015, and a former WHO official said the world can eliminate the disease soon, but only with more investment to end and keep it at bay.

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