More than 350 million new cases of malaria are reported each year. However, a revolutionary mosquito net being developed by textile experts from Leeds, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has ushered in more hope for sustainable protection from the disease.
Design lecturer Dr Stephen Russell and medical entomologist Dr Bruce Alexander from Xeroshield at the Roslin Biocentre will develop a precisely engineered material that uses its structure to kill the mosquito. By relying on its structure, the net will avoid the problems of chemically treated nets, which are the main method of controlling malaria.
Existing chemically treated cotton or polyester nets need re-treating or replacing within 20-25 washes. The move away from insecticides has the added benefit of preventing mosquitoes from becoming resistant to these chemicals.
Dr Russell said: "For years, we've only seen small improvements in the design of mosquito nets and this research provides us a great opportunity to develop new insecticidal materials in a fundamentally different way.
"We are taking an unconventional approach to the design and construction of the nets whilst maintaining their inherent breath ability, strength and durability."
Dr Alexander said: "Not only is this potentially a safer and cheaper method of protecting people, it will also avoid the problem of chemical resistance. We're already seeing bedbugs in the mattresses covered by nets becoming resistant to pyrethroids. We need to break the cycle of playing catch-up as insects develop resistance to insecticides."
"The new nets would be a more sustainable way of protecting people from mosquitoes and - we hope - could go some way to preventing some of the one million plus deaths from malaria seen every year."
The Ģ360,000 funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for the three year project was raised with support of the North America Foundation for the University of Leeds.
"Entrenched global health problems, such as malaria, require innovative solutions," said Dr Regina Rabinovich, director of the Gates Foundation's Infectious Diseases program. "If successful, this research could produce an important new tool to fight malaria in the world's poorest countries."