Necessity is the mother of invention

In spite of coronavirus, the organisers have found a way to drive forward Biovision’s malaria prevention project in Kenya – and to help the population in terms of Covid-19 prevention.

Simon Gottwalt, programme manager

2020 has not been an easy year for anyone, including the malaria project team from the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology icipe in Nairobi, Kenya. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about severe restrictions for our partner organisation: travelling and training, and above all research work, have all been subject to considerable limitations. This has caused a delay in preparations for the large field study that the scientists intend to use to prove the effectiveness of their integrated disease control for both humans and animals.

Malaria control threatened by major setback

Worse still, the fight against malaria is in danger of being set back by years due to the restrictions. It is feared that – after a decline in recent years – malaria death rates could rise again around the world. The icipe team led by project manager Ulrike Fillinger is trying to counteract this development. In the two project areas in Busia on Lake Victoria and Kwale near the Kenyan coast, the team has installed what are referred to as “Tippy-taps” – a kind of improvised tap for washing hands that is simple, inexpensive and effective. With nothing but a 5-litre water canister, four sticks and a piece of string, in no time at all, they put together a device that can be operated by foot, enabling users to wash both hands under running water without touching the container.

Ingeniously simple

Tippy-taps have been set up for more than 100 households with the help of the village health workers. Their construction, which is as simple as it is ingenious, is a source of great enthusiasm: the villagers have adopted the idea and built their own washing facilities based on the model of the Tippy-taps. The Biovision project is thereby making a practical contribution to containing the pandemic, and to improving hygiene in general – in rural Kenya, severe diarrhoea remains a major problem, especially among children. The project team is also taking advantage of the attention sparked whenever Tippy-taps are installed to organise open-air clinics at the same time.

Urgent educational work needed

In these improvised clinics, the villagers are given information on how to protect themselves against Covid-19. This enables the scientists and village health workers, who are highly respected by the population, to counteract the spread of rumours and misinformation. These are unfortunately widespread, even in Kenya. At the same time, they are able to raise awareness about the continuing importance of the fight against malaria. Some government programmes, such as the distribution of mosquito nets, have been put on hold during the pandemic, and many people in need of medical care and treatment no longer dare enter the health centres. Sustainable malaria prevention is more important and urgent than ever at the moment – i.e. during the coronavirus pandemic.