Rolling back malaria one smear at a time

The World is still grinning over the World Health Organization’s (WHO) approval of a vaccine against malaria for children after years of research.

The inoculation has been received with excitement because the disease kills more than 400,000 people globally, mostly children every year.

Although this is considered a major lifesaving step in the fight against the illness, the vaccine, called Mosquirix, is not a perfect solution as it produces about 30 per cent reduction in severe malaria in fully vaccinated children, which is lesser than expected.

This means that other preventive measures including sleeping in mosquito nets, use of repellent, fumigation of gutters and puddles are still crucial in the efforts to stay safe from the disease especially for adults who are obviously not covered by the vaccine.

Malaria Data

Malaria remains a major public health problem in Ghana. The country is part of the 15 high burdened malaria countries in the world, accounting for four per cent of the global cases and seven per cent of all malaria cases in West Africa.

The disease is particularly fatal among children under five years. For instance, statistics by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) indicates that Ghana in 2016 recorded a total of 590 malaria deaths among children under five years.

Similarly, malaria, according to the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP), accounted for about 42.8 per cent of Outpatient Department cases and 22.2 per cent of inpatients cases and 1.1 per cent of inpatients deaths in the country in 2019. Ghana also recorded 333 malaria deaths in the same year (2019).

Repellent

Repellents have been hailed over the years to offer protection against mosquito-borne diseases by reducing the contact between man and the insect especially in developed countries for decades, but their application to infectious disease problems in less developed countries has been frustrated by doubts about their efficacy, affordability, and user-acceptance.

With the recent evolution of pyrethroid resistance in African Anopheles, the prospect of reduced efficacy of insecticide-treated bed nets for preventing disease highlights the importance of strengthening the available arsenal of personal protection measures for public health reasons.

Med Shea Mosquito Repellent

It is in view of this that a new essential oil-based product called “Med Shea Mosquito Repellent” has been produced in Ghana by Northstone Investment Company Limited, to give the fight against malaria a shot in the arm.

Chief Executive of Northstone, Mr Abe Incoom, shedding light on the product, said the lotion is a 100 per cent organic and natural product made from shea butter and combination of Cymbopogonwinterianus plus other essential oil with all ingredients sourced locally.

He described it as “a rich, luxurious multipurpose lotion [which] glides over skin evenly and absorbs quickly. This emollient protective lotion effectively heals and softens skin and makes hair supple and beautiful. It is excellent for skin, hair growth and pleasant lemon scent repels insects.

The insect repellent properties of Cymbopogonwinterianus and other essential oils have been known from time immemorial. Our unique formulation of Cymbopogonwinterianus plus other essential oil and shea butter into this novel local product provides an excellent insect repellent”.

According to Mr Incoom, Northstone owns 600 acres of plantation in the Western Region, consisting of 300 acres of Rubber and 200 acres of essential oil plants and flowers from which the essential oils are distilled organically without any chemicals.

Tried and tested

The insect repellent properties of Med Shea have been tested and proven effective in the laboratory by Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR), University of Ghana. It has also been tested in the field against malaria transmitting mosquitoes by the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) and approved by the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) of Ghana (FDA.Co.20-101767).

The GAEC’s community evaluation was conducted by Dr. Michael Osae and Ekene Kwabena Nwaefuna of the Biotechnology and Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute of the Commission in Atatam, a community in the Adansi Asokwa District of the Ashanti Region.

Atatam has a high malaria prevalence, reported to be 56 per cent in a screening carried out within the community in May 2021 with the predominant mosquito species in the areas located in the forest agro-ecological zone being Anopheles funestus.  The community is rural, and the people are predominantly farmers.

The technical report dated August 2021 stated that “The med shea lotion was effective in repelling mosquitoes both indoors and outdoors. It meets the WHO standard by reducing biting by at least 80 per cent for eight hours indoors and seven hours outdoors.

“The consumer acceptability of the product was also good as nearly all respondents that used the product highly recommended it for mosquito repellency, appearance, texture, fragrance and after effect. The med shea lotion is therefore highly recommended as a mosquito repellent as it holds great potential to reduce mosquito bites and consequently reduce malaria transmission.”

Noguchi, on the other hand, conducted a Laboratory Evaluation led by Senior Research Fellow, Dr Samuel KwekuDadzie, using 300 Anopheles mosquitoes and found out that the percentage repellency of 79 per cent offered by the product is quite significant in providing protection to many low resourced communities.

“Even though essential oil-based repellents are known to only give protection from host-seeking mosquitoes for a short time of two hours, the residual activity of this essential oil-based pomade was four hours against the malaria vector, An. gambiae under laboratory conditions.

“This means that the formulation is good to provide extra protection for longer hours and could provide additional protection in the presence of other known malaria vector control tools such as long-lasting nets and indoor residual spraying.”

According to Mr Incoom, the product would complement efforts by the NMCP to reduce malaria mortality by 90 per cent, case incidence by 50 per cent as well as save the country the $961 million estimated to be used between 2020 and 2029 to reduce malaria.

 BY JONATHAN DONKOR

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