|Cholera hinders distribution of anti-insect blankets|
By Linda Green*
Children try out an insecticide-treated blanket to help prevent malaria
that is sponsored by United Methodist-related Africa University in
A UMNS photo courtesy of
Feb. 5, 2009 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)
An insecticide-treated blanket could be another weapon in the arsenal of health organizations for fighting malaria in Africa.
But a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is slowing research and testing
of the blanket’s effectiveness, according to the coordinator of Africa
University’s blanket initiative.
The faculty of health sciences at the United Methodist-related
school, working Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health organizations, began
preliminary research on an insect shield blanket in 2008, but the
cholera epidemic -- along with collapse of the medical infrastructure
-- has affected the process.
“We do not know if we are going to meet our timelines because it is
the same professionals who will have to assist us,” said Dr. R. Abigail
Kangwende, a public health specialist and coordinator of Africa
University’s insect blanket initiative. The professionals who are
dealing with the cholera epidemic are also needed to participate in
research and studies about the effectiveness of the blanket against
mosquitoes, she said.
Cholera is a bacterial infection, generally spread through water or
food, that causes vomiting and diarrhea. In severe cases, people can
die from a loss of fluids within hours unless they are treated. In
Zimbabwe, the disease has killed 3,229 people and infected 62,909
others, making it the deadliest outbreak in Africa in 15 years,
according to the World Health Organization.
Since Africa University focuses on improving the quality of life for
the people of Africa, “we do have a role to play in educating
communities who should not perish because of lack of knowledge,”
The United Methodist Committee on Relief has also launched a
targeted course of action in response to the dire humanitarian
situation in Zimbabwe that addresses the need for food, health care and
“Cholera is a management problem and resources are needed,”
Kangwende said. Medical personnel could help by educating the public on
preventive methods. Hand-washing, good hygiene and adequate resources,
like water, will help staunch the spread, she said.
St. Jude partnership
Based in a building dubbed the Africa University-St. Jude House,
Kangwende, a medical practitioner for the past 20 years, has a
relationship with the university that is constantly evolving. She,
along with Dr. Tendai P. Manyeza, the university’s physician, were part
of a medical exchange with St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Health care workers from the university, the city of Mutare and other
areas of Zimbabwe participated in a fellowship program at the hospital,
working on international research for infectious diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Building on the relationships fostered there, Kangwende was tapped
to help the hospital, Africa University and the faculty of health
sciences advance a proposed HIV/AIDS vaccine and clinical trial. The
Africa University-St. Jude Project was born and an infrastructure
created with offices in downtown Mutare to work with volunteers from
Before the HIV/AIDS vaccine and clinical trials could get under way,
problems with a similar clinical trial in a neighboring country
derailed the project. “It has actually been suspended indefinitely,”
The project’s mission has been modified “to get involved or embark
in any research that is concerning any priority health problems that
affect Zimbabwe, Africa and the rest of the world,” she said. The
program’s name, she said, will change to something more generic,
possibly the Africa University Clinical Research Program.
The project received new life when Africa University, through its
development committee, partnered with United Converting Co. LLC of
Silver Spring, Md., in 2008 to distribute insect shield blankets to
regions of Africa in the fight against malaria and other insect-borne
More tests required
Although the lightweight, polyester blanket was tested in the United
States and deemed ready, it must undergo Zimbabwe’s registration,
endorsement and licensing processes, as well as pass testing by
government agencies, including the Ministry of Health.
Malaria has no cure and often maims or kills its victims. Every 30
seconds, a child in Africa under the age of 5 dies from malaria,
according to the U.N. Foundation.
“There are people here where it is so severe that it has caused
cerebral memory loss,” Kangwende explained. “There are people that have
been mentally disturbed if they did not die. The biggest tragedy is
that it kills and within a very short time,” she said.
A mother carries her baby wrapped
in the blanket. A UMNS photo courtesy
of Margaret Tagwira.
“Our aim is to market the blanket…not only in Zimbabwe, but in
Africa, and be in line with the mission of Africa University to go
pan-African and improve the quality of life for the people of Africa,”
Kangwende declared. The project partners are working with the World
Health Organization to distribute the blankets across the continent.
The World Health Organization has a protection rate of 95 percent
for repellants and other insect-fighting products. “Our blanket was
found to have a rate of 99.3 percent,” Kangwende pointed out. At the
same time, modality tests for a product to be acceptable would have to
kill at least 80 percent of the insects. “Our blanket test was 100
percent. It killed all of them.”
So why is further testing necessary?
Kangwende said current test results are from laboratory-bred
mosquitoes. “Our product is not going to be used for lab mosquitoes.
Our product is meant to have long-term impact and be used with wild
mosquitoes out there in the community.” The university is working with
the government’s health ministry to test the blanket in different
People think that the mosquito that makes noise is a cause for
concern, but Kangwende explained that the malaria-causing mosquitoes in
Zimbabwe do not buzz. “Those are nuisance mosquitoes,” she said.
When the testing processes are completed, 4,000 blankets are already
at the project office waiting for distribution to families with
children under age 5 and pregnant women.
Global health campaign
Global health is one of four areas of emphasis for The United
Methodist Church, and Kangwende believes the blanket has a role to
play. Even in temperate climates where malaria is not as prevalent, the
blanket could be a safeguard against other insect-borne diseases, such
as yellow fever. “We see this as responding right into the call of
global health. We will see its effect on malaria when we begin to go
Dr. R. Abigail Kangwende says a cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is slowing
research on the insect blanket.
A UMNS photo by Linda Green.
The United Methodist Church is “extremely concerned” about global
health, said West Virginia Bishop Ernest Lyght, chairperson of Africa
University’s Development Committee. “We believe that malaria can
ultimately be stamped out.” He noted that Africa University’s board of
directors is “excited about this endeavor and the partnerships we have
utilizing the blanket.”
Kangwende sees the blanket as a complement to the popular Nothing
But Nets program of the U.N. Foundation, The United Methodist Church
and other global partners. “It (the net) has its place, but there are
deficits, which we feel the blanket will meet,” she said.
Nets require a bed and a place for hanging, and a large number of
people sleep on the floor, she explained. Many people live in homes
where rooms serve multiple purposes, “and it makes it challenging using
the mosquito net.”
The blanket, emblazoned with Africa University’s logo and costing
around $11, was made to be as light as possible. When it is time to
distribute, the university, which will act as a clearinghouse for the
blankets, would need donations “to get the preventive tool to as many
of the populations of Africa as possible,” Kangwende said.
“We know the need is there. The niche is there. Malaria is going to
be there for a long time. We just need the vehicles to get it to
them—to the people.”
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Africa University to blanket continent against malaria
Zimbabwe cholera 'an emergency'
United Converting Company
Africa University Development Office
Nothing But Nets
World Health Organization