By Patrick Ken Kalonde, UNICEF Malawi
Malaria is one of the major causes of death among children under the age of five. Globally, it kills a young child every single minute and causes 75 per cent of all under five deaths. Malawi experiences more than four million cases of malaria every year.
Against this background, the Malawi National Malaria Control Program is working hard to eliminate malaria. The programme is improving access to malaria prevention and treatment drugs, and leading various prevention activities to control mosquito breeding.
Vector control programmes, which target malaria transmitting mosquitos, have been in use for decades. People us mosquito repellants and sleep under net to prevent bites. The World Health Organization (WHO) says since 2001 and estimated 451 million cases of malaria have been averted through the use of nets.
Vector control also works to suppress the mosquito population by targeting places where they breed. Because female mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, chemicals can be used control them.
During the rainy season it is difficult to control mosquito breeding sites. However, during the dry season, there are few mosquito breeding sites, which helps to inform vector control programmes.
The University of Liverpool and Lancaster ran a project that assessed the potential of utilizing images captures by drones in mapping mosquito breeding sites. Using the Humanitarian Drone Corridor, established by the Malawi Government and UNICEF Malawi in 2016, the drones captured images of potential mosquito breeding sites.
Hundreds of images were captured from the drones, which were imported into a powerful computer and stitched together into a single aerial image. The final image was analyzed for identification of mosquito breeding sites.
At the same time, an entomological investigation was also conducted the Malawi-Liverpool-Welcome Trust Research Centre. The investigation focused on collecting samples of water for identification of malaria causing mosquito larvae. Geographical coordinates were recorded at all locations where the sampling was conducted.
The coordinates were laid over the drone image, creating a better understanding of what mosquitos breed areas look like.
In the future it might be possible to identify mosquito breeding sites, simply by using drone imagery. Malawi might also be about the way it controls malaria by integrating drones into its vector control programs.