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Develop me: Can stinking feet save Africa from malaria?

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Malaria is one of the leading killer diseases in the world and Africa, as usual, takes the lead on that front.

Despite all the global efforts to eradicate malaria, the disease still kills over a million people from about 250 million cases of the disease every year, sadly most of them African children.

Malaria is especially serious in Africa, where one in every five (20%) of childhood deaths is from the effects of the disease.

An African child has on average between 1,6 and 5,4 episodes of malarial fever each year. And every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria.

A lot of work — research studies and campaigns — has gone into the complete eradication of malaria project. While some remain optimistic about the possibilities of a malaria-free world, others think that complete eradication of the disease is a pipe dream in the absence of a vaccine.

Current efforts tend to focus more on prevention than treatment, but the problem remains and it has compounded the HIV matrix in sub-Saharan countries.

In Southern Africa, the coming of the rainy season is usually associated with hope of a new beginning and good harvests, but it also brings with it increased cases of Malaria. Moist environments tend to create breeding environment for the anopheles, the malaria-causing mosquito.

You may not need to worry about it anymore if recent findings are anything to go by. They may not only sound funny, but can astound you.

Brace yourself as you may as well use a “disgusting gift of the feet” to get rid off mosquitoes. Scientists have discovered the most advanced mosquito repellent — dirty socks.

The smell of sweaty socks signals a feast to the blood-sucking insects.

A decade and half ago, a Dutch scientist stood in a room, naked, and let himself be swarmed by mosquitoes.

The idea was to see which part of the body the mosquitoes were most attracted to. It turned out, it’s the feet. Yes, you read right and the stinkier the better, especially if you add socks.

Just like any inquisitive scientist, the mosquitoes’ colossal appetite for human feet inspired further studies on malaria to try to zero down on the smelly scent that wafts out of so many people’s shoes with the belief that the smell can be used to reduce the spread of malaria.

Mosquitoes, including the malaria-carrying anopheles, choose their targets for blood entirely on their sense of smell.

And the mosquitoes find the smell of sweaty socks appetisingly irresistible. Now that stench might be used to attract, and kill the malaria-carrying pests.

The smelly shoes and socks which many people find disgusting are actually attractive to mosquitoes.

The same studies have found that mosquitoes are attracted to dirty socks up to four times as much as they are to humans.

In simpler terms, if you share a room with stinky socks, you are four times likely not to be attacked by mosquitoes.

Or to bring it even closer home, when a person with stinky feet walks into the house, he is likely to draw the attention more than you are affected by his (or her) socks.

Be strong, it is to your advantage. Mosquitoes kill; you can stand the stink with less side effects than risk a mosquito bite.

Dr Fredros Okumu of Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute has developed a trap that uses the stinking feet smell to attract mosquitoes, the poison in the trap then kills 95% of mosquitoes, he says, making this a potentially potent tool in the fight against a life-threatening, but preventable, disease.

Instead of endangering your respiratory system with those sprays and coils, those stinky socks can finally come to the rescue of your family.

Pesticides such as mosquito sprays are known to cause both acute and chronic problems such as skin and eye irritations, headaches, dizziness and nausea, weakness, difficulty in breathing, mental confusion and disorientation, seizures, coma, and death.

For most of us, a common and cheap alternative to preventing malaria is the use of mosquito sprays and coils despite these damaging effects to the lungs.
If you think this is a stinky business you may have to think again.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently chipped in with a whopping $750 000 grant for the Ifakara Health Institute to develop the “stinking socks” traps.

As with many aid efforts that centre on Africa, achieving low production costs could prove a crucial factor in how effective the concept can be.

Unlike food and other basics that cost millions of dollars to import, scientists are convinced that the cost of socks might be prohibitive, but the stench itself is found in abundance in many African countries.

“The sock is attractive to us, not just because it’s attractive to mosquitoes, but also because it’s readily available,” said Okumu of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

The smelly sock trap is currently being used alongside mosquito nets to put over beds, which are being distributed across malarial regions of the continent.

Many experts working to eliminate malaria in Africa and around the world say that the most effective method is to spray the inside of homes with a weak solution of the insecticide DDT.

But if you can’t afford this, why not resort to locally available resources.

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