WHILE at the African Union Abuja +12 Special Summit on HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis earlier this month, Dr Robert Newman of the Global Malaria Programme for the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced that the world’s first malaria vaccine could be available as early as 2015.
Although deaths from the disease have been significantly reduced in the past decade (some reports say they are down as much as a third since 2000), the WHO’s latest estimate reported 660,000 malaria deaths (in 2010), 90% of which occurred in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily among children.
The complexity of the malaria parasite has made development of a vaccine problematic. But finally, with trials under way at 11 sites in seven African countries, the RLTSS vaccine, said Newman, is showing promising results.
But not everyone is willing to wait another three years.
In Burkina Faso, Moctar Dembele and Gerard Niyondiko of the International Institute for Water and Environmental Engineering in Ouagadougou recently won $25,000 (R245,087) in the 2013 Global Social Venture Competition (GSVC) for their mosquito-repellent soap called Faso Soap.
Founded in 1999 by MBA students at the University of California’s Berkeley Haas School of Business, the GSVC provides aspiring entrepreneurs with mentoring and exposure to help transform their ideas into businesses that will have positive social effects. It has evolved into a global network supported by an international community of volunteer judges, mentors and student organisers and a partnership of premier business schools in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa.
This year, GSVC received 650 entries from nearly 40 countries. It is the first time anyone from Africa has won the 14-year-old competition.
Among the finalists was Johannesburg company Reel Gardening, which manufactures a biodegradable strip containing open, pollinated seeds and fertiliser for the quick and easy establishment of urban vegetable gardens. The company was established by Claire Reed, who came up with the idea when she was a 16-year-old schoolgirl.
The winning entry, Faso Soap, is nifty on several levels. As Dembele and Niyondiko point out, everyone in Africa — even the poorest of poor — uses soap. So, unlike other mosquito repellents such as sprays, lotions and tablets, the product does not require a change in behaviour from consumers. Wash yourself, your kids and clothing using the new soap and voilà, you’re protected against malaria. And, in addition to protecting bathers, the soap produces larvicidal wastewater that helps prevent mosquito larvae breeding in drains and sewers.
Then there is the fact that Faso Soap is made from abundantly available locally sourced plants and natural ingredients, including lemon grass, shea tree and African marigold, which means it is inexpensive to make. The idea is to make Faso Soap one of the cheapest available so there are no additional costs to households.
The students want to mass-produce the soap in Burkina Faso, and make it easily available to entrepreneurs and nongovernmental organisations so they can get it to market throughout Africa as quickly as possible. They are hoping to be in full production by 2015, when they will have completed their clinical trials.