Some 80 per cent of malaria transmission occurs in Africa. Since 2000, there has been huge investment in malaria control on the continent which has halved the amount of malaria thanks mostly to distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets and spraying of homes with mosquito-killing products.
However, in the last three years progress against the disease has slowed – with numbers of infected people now increasing in some areas. Resistance to insecticides is thought to be one of the key causes behind the stalling progress.
“We are now entering a crucial point in the future history of malaria control globally and we need to have some good products,” said Prof Lindsay. “It’s an important contribution to the future of malaria control in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Although a mosquito net alone is able to protect against malaria transmission for individuals, treated nets are crucial in the broader fight against the disease, as insecticides when effective help reduce the overall population of mosquitoes in a community – leading to much more significant declines in rates of malaria.
“The critical thing with malaria control is to reduce the average life of a mosquito,” said Prof Lindsay.
As well as reducing the rate of malaria, the researchers found that the new nets reduced anaemia rates among children sleeping under them by 52 per cent. Malaria anaemia which results from infection of red blood cells by malaria parasites is a major cause of mortality in children under two years old.
The trial which was conducted by a team of scientists from the UK, Burkino Faso and Switzerland was limited to 40 rural areas in Burkino Faso. Going forward, the researchers say that the next step will be to expand the study to further countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Prof Lindsay is hopeful that following further successful trials the World Health Organization will approve the new nets.
“Malaria still kills a child every two minutes so we need to keep working to find the best ways to stop this from happening. It is clear that conventional methods used for controlling malaria mosquitoes need to be improved and new additional tools developed,” he said.
“If we take our foot off the gas, malaria will come back to haunt us again,” he added.