High concentration of synthetic insecticides used by East African countries in treating mosquito nets could be unsafe, researchers have said.
The nets are treated by insecticides known as pyrethroids, which, according to the researchers, high concentrations cause asthma and cancer to infants and young children, and are very harmful to the environment since they do not break down easily.
Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) is now seeking to eliminate the unsafe synthetic insecticides.
“All mosquito bed nets distributed to households in East African countries are treated using synthetic insecticides, which are not safe.
"We are looking for a way of coming up with natural extract from pyrethrum to make safe insecticides and even use them in making indoor residual sprays which are harmless,” said Dr Festus Tolo, head of Natural Product Research and Drug Development Programme at Kemri.
The institute is carrying out a study that involves usage of natural extracts from African flower of pyrethrum through nanotechnology to come up with safe insecticides for treating nets.
The study titled New BioMedical Uses of Kenyan Grown Pyrethrum seeks to ensure that residents of East African member states are safe from attacks caused by pyrethroids.
Dr Tolo said the study was long overdue since some countries have banned the use of synthetic treated nets.
The researchers are getting the pyrethrum flower from Naivasha and West Pokot farmers since it is not widely planted.
“The pyrethrum flower produces pyrethrins, which are natural insecticides. The technology involves transforming the particles (extracts) from pyrethrum to remain for a longer period of time,” he said.
“The reason pyrethrins have not been in use is because they are not readily available and they do not last long when used on bed nets, while the pyrethroids are easily available and last for long on nets,” added Dr Tolo.
The study began last year in October, according to Dr Tolo.
“We are expecting to release the results by October this year. Though from what we have gathered, natural pyrethrum sprays paralyse insects that come into contact with it. We want to make it long lasting,” he said.
World Health Organization estimates that 3.2 billion people are at risk of malaria worldwide.