A revamped technology for combating malaria will soon be introduced in Kenya. The technology which involves the use of a bacterial formulation will be used to control mosquitoes — the malaria vector.
Kenya is looking up to Cuba which eradicated the disease many years ago.
Julio Cesar Gonzalez Marchante, the Cuban ambassador to Kenya, explains that his country successfully eradicated the disease three decades ago, using this technology. Cuba began developing the technology after the Second World War.
“We developed and applied the biolarvicide technology to eradicate the disease, which we successfully did” says Marchante.
This technology involves the use of two bacterial formulations, developed by Labiofam, an institute in Cuba. According to Dr Elizabeth Juma of the Division of Malaria Control in Kenya, the formulations work by killing the mosquito larvae in their breeding sites.
This technology is an effective method, which has been shown by experts to reduce malaria incidence by up to 80 per cent.
“The use of chemicals or what is known as larviciding to control the malaria vector, has invariably employed pyrethrum-based synthetic products in many areas of the country,” explains Juma.
In contrast, this new technology entails the use of the naturally occurring bacteria. The bacteria control the mosquito responsible for spreading the malaria parasite, by eliminating its larvae, through the release of toxins.
Once administered, these toxins are digested by the the mosquito larvae. Bacteria spores then multiply inside the larvae, releasing toxins, resulting in its death.
As far as Juma is concerned this technology is not all that new. She observes that Bt has been used before to control malaria, in the coastal areas of the country such as Malindi.
She adds that the technology has also been applied in Kisii and Suba districts in the Western parts of the country. When asked why Kenya turned to Cuba for this technology, Juma said:
“Cuba offered us the help. It is a normal part of cooperative bilateral agreement signed between Kenya and Cuba.”
However, the ambassador points out that Cuba is only duty-bound to assist Kenya and the African continent at large. He cites the country’s longstanding relationship with the continent, which goes way back to the slavery and colonial era.
This new effort to tackle malaria in Kenya began in January 2009, when the Interregional Commission was formed between the two countries, otherwise also known as the Joint Commission.
“We discussed the different areas of cooperation, one of which happened to be malaria eradication,” says Marchante.
The ambassador explains that the process of registering the biolarvicides in Kenya is ongoing. Once this is done, it will signal the commencement of rolling out the technology.
Meanwhile the malaria division is holding high level negotiations with other relevant government organs and departments, about how best to introduce the technology in Kenya.
Kenya has cut down the rate of malaria-related deaths for children under five years from 35, 000 annually a decade ago to 15, 000 annually by 2008.
This huge success against malaria has largely been attributed to the use of the Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets The deployment of Indoor Residual Spraying programmes in malaria prone areas has also contributed to this success.
But these two methods have one distinct characteristic: both involve the use of pyrethroid chemicals. Concerns are now emerging about mosquitos developing resistance to pyrethroid-treated nets.
According to Joe Lines of the vector control department at WHO, scientists are concerned about this emerging resistance.
Kenya hopes to eliminate malaria by 2017. The disease has been in decline in the country in recent years and scientists say they are optimistic that it can be eliminated by then.
The goal was announced by Beth Mugo, minister of public health and sanitation last year.
“We are at a point of moving towards a malaria-free Kenya in 2017,” said Willis Akhwale, head of the country’s Department of Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the official, the strengthening of health systems and human resources capacity is going on.