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Cameroon: Mosquito-proof Housing As Malaria Transmission Antidote

May 5, 2011 - 21:14 -- Bart G.J. Knols

The article below was contributed by journalist Ntaryike Divine Jr. (Douala, Cameroon) as part of the SjCOOP project in collaboration with MalariaWorld.

For several years, bednets and insecticide spraying have served as priority weapons in the fight against malaria transmission across Africa.  However, the defiant vampire vectors and malaria parasites in their mad quests for survival have regularly altered tactics, formulating resistance to insecticides and even drugs to maintain their claim on human lives. 


Now, a group of researchers from the UK is proposing an additional antidote – mosquito-proof housing.  The combat strategy, developed by the non-profit Architecture for Health in Vulnerable Environments Institute, or ARCHIVE is hinged on the premise that screening homes against mosquitoes can significantly slash vulnerability to malaria infection. 


Malaria experts say the African mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, is probably the world’s most dangerous and crafty.  They say its need for human blood energizes its ability to sneak through barriers into homes especially at night.  According to a study conducted by Steve Lindsay of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Anopheles gambiae flies upwards when it encounters a wall, identifying cracks and openings to find a way in, unlike other species which fly sideways when they encounter an obstacle.
Say something here about why the mosquitoes want blood… it is not for food, it is in order that they can reproduce. And only the females bite.
Entomologists estimate the world is inhabited by about 3,000 mosquito species buzzing around and normally feeding on nectar.  However, only the larger females hanker after human blood to nourish their larvae.  The blood meal provides protein and ensures successful growth for the evolving offspring that usually number about 300 which will fully mature in a fortnight to puff up the world’s population of the bloodsuckers.   
The ARCHIVE project; another effort in the protracted survival-of-the-fittest warfare between humans and mosquitoes will be rolled out in three phases, each lasting four months.  It will begin with gathering information about housing styles and available local materials needed for readjusting homes and in new constructions.  Then architects, urban planners and environmental health specialists from across the globe will be invited to submit design proposals for housing construction and improvement and the last stage will involve implementation.
“We will engage the communities, to hear from them on their terms about what they believe the intervention strategy should involve. So they will not only be a part of the process, but central to it so that they will be empowered to adopt housing as a central strategy in the fight against malaria,” Peter Williams, executive director of ARCHIVE, told officials of the Cameroon Coalition Against Malaria, local partners in the project.  
The envisaged benefits of the venture are even more significant considering that in recent years, widespread inadequate housing has tacitly increased the malaria burden.  In Cameroon, rural exodus is fueling congestion in the towns and cities, with enormous pressure on housing.  It is commonplace to find half-a-dozen people sharing single-room shacks in the city slums. Current projections indicate that by 2025 some 660 million Africans will be living in urban communities, with over 450 million of them in inadequate houses. 
Elsewhere, people consider ceilings and eaves expensive and dispensable luxuries. And so bloodthirsty mosquitoes face little or no obstacles to gain admittance into homes, freely hopping from one victim to the next and spreading the malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite, which multiplies in the liver and then infects red blood cells to provoke fevers, headaches, vomiting and anemia that easily culminate in death if treatment is delayed.
“It is true that we sleep and wake up with mosquitoes here in Douala. The ARCHIVE project will be very welcome but people will sure complain they lack the money to make the adjustments on their houses, and that is if landlords agree that changes be made because the majority of people in Douala are tenants,” Anette Effeti a health reporter with the private broadcaster, Canal 2 International argued.  
But the ARCHIVE project initiators say they have such concerns in mind.  Peter Williams insisted that during the first phase of the project, the cheapest locally available materials for improving lodging facilities will be identified and used for illustration. 
The initiative coincides with plans by the Cameroon government to freely distribute some 8.7 million long lasting insecticide bed nets as from August.  Also since February this year, the treatment of simple malaria has been free for children below five. These efforts have culminated in slight drops in malaria mortality and morbidity in Cameroon.  Figures from the National Program for the Fight against Malaria indicate that morbidity stood at 36 percent in 2010, down from 38 percent the year before; while mortality rates fell to 24 percent in 2010 against 29 percent in 2009.



William Jobin's picture
Submitted by William Jobin on

Congratulations Peter Williams and the ARCHIVE project!

Your approach is precisely what we need to make current strategies sustainable, if the costs are acceptable. So I urge you to keep careful cost records on your projects for screening and closing of eaves and ceilings.

Then you can compare the long-lasting screens with the short-lived bednets, to see which is really the most cost-effective. I think the durability of screens might make them a better choice than bednets, despite the common wisdom. Furthermore, screening a house and closing in the eaves and ceilings adds value to the house.

Also please remember to add closing springs to the screened doors, to overcome those Small Boys who never remember to close the doors!


William Jobin Director of Blue Nile Associates

Submitted by Guest (not verified) on

This is a great idea.

My contribution is that we should also think of incoporating long lasting insecticides in the screens