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Malaria: innovation saves lives

Malaria is the number one health condition at Lukole health centre in Ngara, north-west Tanzania

Frank Mng'ong'o, Concern Worldwide's head researcher on the effects of lantana camara on mosquito density, looks at mosquitoes under a microscope in his lab.

Each month, more than 550 cases of malaria are treated by staff at the clinic. Concern Worldwide is looking at cost-effective, sustainable solutions to malaria that will help change this.

Impact on families

Among the patients are Stella Peter and her 10-month-old son Nizeleos. They are sharing a bed with another mother and infected child in the over-crowded ward. Like most mothers here, Stella has been forced to abandon her work in the fields and has left her other children behind to take her baby for treatment. She explains:

Malaria is a big problem in my family. I am a farmer. Right now I could be farming, but I am here losing time because of malaria. It hurts the health of my children. Even now, my three-year-old at home has malaria, but no one is available to take him to the hospital.

When searching for a cost effective solution to malaria, our staff along with environmental health officers were guided by the community to use indigenous plants to repel mosquitoes responsible for spreading the disease. 

Ground-breaking study

Refugees living in camps around Lukole had experienced first-hand the powerful effects of a special plant called lantana.  We decided to build on local knowledge and conduct a study with help from Tanzania’s Ifakara Health Institute

Promising results

We planted lantana around 231 homes and then measured the number of mosquitoes inside the houses. The results were remarkable: houses with lantana had 56 percent fewer anopheles gambiae and 83 percent fewer anopheles funestas, both malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and 50 percent fewer mosquitoes of any kind. Watch this video about the early stages of our research.

Overwhelming response

Family after family say the same thing: there are fewer mosquitoes in their homes because of lantana and, most importantly, they rarely get malaria now. But the situation for those without lantana remains critical. 

Future plans

While lantana alone may not signal the end of malaria here, it seems very likely that it could prove to be a powerful weapon in the fight against it. The next step is a clinical trial that will measure not just the number of mosquitoes, but also the number of malaria cases across a wider number of households in Ngara and throughout Tanzania. 

In depth