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New research to tackle malaria

An OU-led research project has just got funding to tackle malaria, a fatal disease which remains active as the world deals with COVID-19.

Dr Andrea Berardi, Senior Lecturer in the OU’s Faculty of Science, Technology and Mathematics is Principal Investigator on the DETECT: Integrated Space, Technology, Vector Control project, which has just received £379,000 from the UK Space Agency.

“It is worth remembering that all of the other diseases like malaria, which existed before COVID-19, are just as problematic, during this pandemic, and in some cases are being exacerbated by the disruption caused,” he said.

DETECT, is one of the 10 new cutting-edge projects that the UK Space Agency has announced today on World Humanitarian Day to help tackle global development problems – from the spread of malaria to human trafficking.

Ground-based sensing to detect mosquitoes’ breeding ground

Mosquito-borne diseases have a major impact on developing countries. In 2018, there were an estimated 228 million cases and 405,000 deaths from malaria alone. DETECT will integrate satellite, air-borne and ground-based sensing to detect where mosquitoes are most likely to breed.

Through satellite communications, the system will then dispatch ‘sprayer drones’ to these high-risk areas to release biocontrol agents – killing mosquito larvae without affecting other species.

New drone sensing and sprayer operations

By the end of the project in March 2021, the researchers will deliver:

  • A tested drone, ground station and community ‘data hub’ design and component specification for community-based environmental sensing and analysis, and drone-sprayer operation.
  • An information system for real-time predictive environmental modelling of mosquito breeding sites.
  • A business model for sustaining the Indigenous Environmental Information and Decision Support Hubs beyond the timeframe of the project.
  • An established network of stakeholders able and willing to support the rolling out of the system within Guyana and our target regions in South America and Africa.

Dr Berardi said:

“Our ground-breaking initiative, led by a diverse and experienced team, is an opportunity to combine cutting-edge remote sensing technologies, human centred design and targeted drone spraying of biocontrol agents to deploy an alternative community-led vector-control strategy.

In collaboration with local communities, we will be able to develop a service which could demonstrate more effective control at lower cost, potentially revolutionising mosquito vector control across the world and saving many lives.”

Partners on the DETECT project are:

Cobra Collective CIC, North Rupununi District Development Board, Blue Bear Systems Research Limited, Commonwealth Centre for Digital Health, BrainStreet Group, University of Guyana, Iwokrama International Centre, University of Aberystwyth, 2iC Limited, and University of Stirling.

Find out more about OU research in the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics

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