Global Health

These dogs are being trained to hunt malaria 

Dogs from charity Medical Detection Dogs, are seen in Milton Keynes, Britain, October 22, 2018. REUTERS/Matthew Stock - RC15A9FCA500

Malaria infected 216 million people worldwide in 2016. Image: REUTERS/Matthew Stock

Matthew Stock
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Global Health?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Global Health is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Global Health

In a lab room, two-year-old springer spaniel Freya bustles along a row of vials positioned on stands, sniffing each for signs of disease.

The vials all contain pieces cut from socks, one of which belonged to a child carrying the malaria parasite. When Freya detects the scent it gives off, she sits down next to it to receive a reward.

"Dogs are able to detect a difference in the socks that have been worn by children who are infected with the parasite and children who are malaria-free," Claire Guest, co-founder of Medical Detection Dogs, told Reuters.

The charity, founded in 2008, hopes the early-stage trials it is conducting will enable canines to join efforts to stamp out one of the world's most deadly diseases.

Image: WHO

"Some odours are 'yes' and some are 'no'. And once you've taught (the dogs)... those rules you then start with the disease you want them to find. And the game is: find that odour, sit in front of it and I'll give you a reward," Guest said.

While malaria mortality rates are down, the World Health Organization says progress against the disease - most of whose victims are sub-Saharan children under five - is in danger of stalling.

It says malaria infected 216 million people worldwide in 2016 and killed 445,000, around 16,000 more than in 2015.

Have you read?

Researchers believe the odour given off by the malaria parasite is attracting the mosquitoes that spread the disease.

It's this same odour the dogs are likely to be smelling, said Professor Steve Lindsay, Principle Investigator of the study from Durham University.

It's still early days for the research, and the teams plan much larger trials to see if dogs can directly sniff out malaria in people. They believe such dogs, positioned at ports of entry, could eventually offer a quick and non-invasive way of preventing the parasite from crossing borders.

"If you actually had people carrying malaria parasites they'd probably have a really big odour signal," said Lindsay.

The extreme sensitivity of dogs in detecting odours is being recognised in efforts to combat other diseases too, and health authorities in Britain have approved trials to train them to sniff out prostate and bowel cancer in urine.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Global HealthHealth and Healthcare
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

5 critical drivers of women and children’s health in under-served rural and refugee communities

Neema Kaseje, Robert Metzke, Alaa Murabit and Michael Newsome

February 15, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum